A study of high school biology students engaged in a Science-Technology-Society (STS) landfill restoration project

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this study was to observe high school students as they progressed through a Science-Technology-Society (STS) project that involved the closing of a landfill. In this STS project, students investigated the best vegetation for reseeding a closed landfill. This project was initiated because a highway was to be built across the landfill to Explore Park. The director of Explore Park requested an experimental vegetation instead of the standard vegetation mixture. He wanted a vegetation that was aesthetically pleasing and environmentally acceptable.

The study investigated the involvement of students in the construction of knowledge of local environmental issues. Students shared their perceptions about the STS process through interviews, journal entries, a questionnaire, field notes, and written artifacts. All data were transcribed and coded for themes. Ethnographic methods were used to tell this story in twelve vignettes.

The results of this study are important because they show how educators can use local issues to build classroom curriculum. Students became actively involved in the learning process as they advanced through identified STS instructional goals. The first goal was the Foundations Level. Basic content associated with landfill management and revegetation issues were introduced. Facts about garbage and the need for reducing, reusing, and recycling were investigated. The second goal was the Issue Awareness Level. This goal included becoming involved, identifying the players, and investigating values and beliefs. The third goal was the Investigation and Evaluation Level. Students were exposed to concepts and strategies necessary to investigate and analyze the issues and evaluate alternative solutions. This level encompassed designing plant experiments. The fourth goal was the Citizenship Responsibility Level. Students were introduced to strategies necessary for making responsible decisions concerning solutions to the issues.

The conclusions of this study suggest that for many students, the teaching of science through local technological and societal issues allowed them to become actively engaged in the learning process. Students who took ownership of their investigations created opportunities to enhance self-esteem, made connections, and enhanced their knowledge of scientific investigations and scientific content in the context of real life issues.