Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Science and Mathematics


Earth and Environmental Studies

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Greg Pope

Committee Member

Katrina Bulkley

Committee Member

Matthew L. Gorring

Committee Member

Jacalyn Willis


This study considers whether frequent and brief trips outdoors can affect students’ interest in and curiosity about nature. Recent research shows that people - and children in specific - are not spending as much time outdoors as in previous generations. This has raised concerns that today’s children will be less likely to champion environmental issues as adults, due to their lack of connection to the environment that surrounds and supports them.

I took my five sixth-grade science classes outdoors eleven times for ten-minute field trips during the 2009-10 school year. Using inquiry-based instruction, the initial trips were focused observation. Subsequent trips slowly added more independent student work - hypothesizing reasons for observations, determining test plans for the hypotheses and ultimately testing the hypotheses and reporting a conclusion.

The students showed clear improvements in their ability to do science: observations were much more detailed, hypotheses were more thoughtful and test plans more realistic. Student interviews and the more subjective work show their attachment to the natural world. One student’s comment that there was a chance to do something “you wouldn’t think of doing” or see something “you didn’t notice before” is indicative of awakened interest in the outdoor topic. This study adds qualitative data that show the emotional rapport children have with nature, and the desire to be outdoors enjoying fresh air. It also demonstrates that science can be effectively learned outdoors, being “real” scientists gathering data for “real” projects.

Quantitative data from a survey concerning enjoyment of the natural environment do not agree with the positive qualitative findings. There is evidence that students did not take the May survey seriously, which could account for this decline in enjoyment of the outdoors. However, there is also a disconnect between this quantitative tool and the qualitative findings in the remainder of the study.

There is work to do in reconciling quantitative data with the qualitative data. Further research is required on place-based, nature study and its effect on students. Adding relatively easy outdoor nature-based full-fledged inquiry earlier in the year is one possible avenue to test for increased student interest in nature. As we continue with different studies, we may find methods to document the benefits of fieldwork that provide consistent results that are supported by data.

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