The importance of learning environments for Science

by Jonny Green

Learning environments have the ability to substantially influence student outcomes, so it has been researched significantly for the past three decades. The interaction between classroom environmental settings and the student’s interactions within that environment will have an impact on the student’s behaviour, motivation, achievement and attitudes towards science in Key Stage 3 (KS3).The learning environment in the science laboratory differs to regular classrooms due to the necessity to use practical demonstrations and activities.  Student cohesiveness, open-endedness, integration, rule clarity and the material environment are the five scales used to assess the effectiveness of the environment in the science laboratory from previous studies. Researchers organised the findings of 40 studies that had previously been conducted in science education showing a variety of samples across schools comparing variables of gender and grade level. The findings of the study showed that the variables did not have any negative influence on the outcomes of the study. So the findings from the studies described below are applicable for both boys and girls in year seven, eight and nine (KS3).

The first investigation to connect learning environments and student outcomes in the science laboratory was conducted in 1993. The investigation included 1,594 chemistry students in key stage three. The synthesis of results for the above studies showed integration to effect student achievement the most. At MIS in the KS3 laboratory scientific theories are integrated with real-world contexts, so students make comparable connections to enhance scientific understanding, thus increasing student achievement. Integration occurs daily in the science laboratory but more intensely with two days a week designated for practical investigations. Science competitions and field trips this academic year have enhanced the integration between practical situations assimilating experiences into new scientific knowledge.

The most conclusive study to show the link between laboratory learning environments and attitudes in science was conducted with 800 students from 100 secondary schools in Malaysia. High levels of open-endedness and scientific resources created positive links to student’s perceptions and attitudes towards science. At MIS the scope of the investigation is given to students when undertaking certain practicums allowing them to investigate with a high level of autonomy to gain new scientific skills and knowledge in an open-ended environment. We all know of the frustrations when we need to complete a certain task and it can’t be done because we don’t have what we need. At MIS this is not the case, we have three dedicated teaching assistants for year seven, eight and nine ensuring the students have everything required to create the best learning environment possible not only for science, but for each subject offered at the school. I’m pleased to say with high levels of autonomy and abundant resources students in KS3 have a very positive attitude to science.

Several studies have shown that student behaviour in the Science laboratory is effected most by rule clarity. The learning theorist Lewin (1936) identified that the interaction between environmental settings and an individual’s interactions within that environment would have an impact on the person’s behaviour. Rule clarity is critical in the science laboratory more than any other classroom in the school due to the use of chemicals and flammable gases.  At MIS students understand the need for rules through organisation and expectations in the science laboratory and how they link to the direction of goals to have an open-ended, integrated learning environment.

Significant research was conducted to show how the environment in the laboratory effected student motivation. The research consisted of 867 students from year nine. The findings of the study showed that open-endedness, integration, rule clarity and the material environment all equally effected student motivation, but student cohesiveness was the biggest influence. Student cohesiveness is how comfortable students are with their peers when interacting in pairs, teams and the class as a whole. At MIS this is developed across all subjects with activities both internally and externally of the classroom to establish and encourage cohesiveness throughout the entire student body.

Our school is still growing. At MIS and we look forward to the opportunity that has been given to us to equip these young men and women to succeed in a rapidly-changing, fast-paced, technologically-driven society. We have a great team of educators in KS3 working constantly to incorporate the British curriculum into each different learning environment using the most effective learning typologies ensuring students maximise their potential socially, mentally and academically. Integration, open-endedness, student cohesiveness and the availability of resources allows the learning experience to be fun and that is key to being part of the team at MIS. We want the students to enjoy school and ultimately enjoy learning.

Jonny Green is a middle school science teacher at Mooltripakdee International School.

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