S. Ebner1, A. Nussbaumer 1, S. Luttenberger2, C. Guetl1

1Graz University of Technology (AUSTRIA)
2University College of Teacher Education Styria (AUSTRIA)
In today's and future labour market there is an urgent need for people educated and skilled in the fields of natural sciences, engineering, and information technologies. However, at the same time a lack of interest in these fields can be identified in young people. Therefore, there is a need for innovative didactic approaches that are suitable to engage and motivate pupils in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

This paper presents a pilot study that demonstrates and evaluates how interest and motivation in natural science and data science can be stimulated and increased. The core idea of this study is to combine a natural science experiment with a basic data science activity. These two parts are tied together in an overarching pedagogical concept that is based on inquiry-based teaching and learning methodology, where learners act like researchers.

The natural science part of the study consists in a plant experiment where children are asked to grow beans in a flower pot in the classroom. Everyday they had to water the plant and measure the main characteristics, namely the plant size, the soil humidity, and the amount of water. For this task they were equipped with instructional material, as well as measurement instruments. Furthermore, they had to collect and enter these data in a digital environment that has been created for this specific purpose. This environment provides access to the entered data in different ways, for example diagrams displaying the increase of size, diagrams showing the daily use of water, and various visualisations comparing the plant data of the peers. At the end of the experiment the pupils had to answer several natural science research questions whose answers required the diagrams of the digital environment, for example the influence of the watering on the growth.

This pilot study was conducted in three primary schools with one class per school. In total 47 pupils participated, 26 male and 21 female, ageing from 9-12 years. Questionnaires before, during, and after the experiment collected data on the interest, motivation and self-concept in science in general and on the experiment in particular. Furthermore, log data were collected from the use of the digital environment, including how many data have been entered and how they have interacted with the diagrams. Overall, the analysis suggests high interest and motivation in the experiment, as well as an increase of interest in science in general. Furthermore, an increase of understanding of the diagrams and its use for drawing conclusions can be observed. This positive result suggests the use of this experiment in primary schools to support natural and data science learning.

The paper makes a contribution by presenting a validated method how to increase motivation and interest of young people in the STEM fields. The full paper will present details on the pedagogical approach and its theoretical foundation, the experimental setting of the pilot study, the digital environment with its possibilities to visualise plant data, and finally detailed analysis and findings of the pilot study.