Teaching Chemistry in Rural America: A Comparative Study Examining Innovative Informal Education and Applied Science Approaches to Improving Engagement

Gregory Van Doren, Lawrence Kevin Duffy


How to engage underrepresented students in Science and Engineering careers is an important challenge in most rural areas. A formal school environment is not always the best place to learn for many students. Informal, place-based, culturally relevant and applied Science education can be used to engage many students commonly bypassed by formal lecture approaches. Integration of traditional “western” Science with traditional local culture has been proposed to increase engagement and broaden the participation of rural students in Science courses. Principles of chemistry such as colors and dyes were taught in both standard University classes and community workshops. Participant self-assessments were compared with self-assessments of students in introductory chemistry courses at two Universities. The formal course data correlated prior knowledge of content to increased learning gains for basic chemistry concepts. The community workshop participant responses differed with those of formal University students, indicating both location and context of the presentation as factors in engagement. When held in a University classroom and laboratory, where ideas were not related to local cultures and places, learning outcomes were lower in applied knowledge compared to workshops held at a cultural center. A long-term commitment to informal Science education in a community setting is a promising approach to improving diversity in the Science workforce by using applied Science topics and cultural relevance to teach basic concepts.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5296/ire.v4i2.9537


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