Teton Science Schools research program seeks to better understand and document the impact of place-based education as well as answer important questions of practice in education.

Our educational research is driven by our five hypotheses about place-based education

Effective place-based education results in:

Increased student and teacher engagement
Increased student learning outcomes
Stronger connections to community and greater community impact
Increased student social-emotional learning
More effective educators

Questions we seek to answer

Current Projects

Science learning is essential for understanding how to evaluate evidence, problem solve, and think critically. We know that most science learning occurs in non-formal settings, which Americans visit at higher rates than any other developed country.  Emerging evidence also supports increased science learning through an inquiry approach, in which students ask and attempt to answer their own questions by using the scientific process. Yet little empirical evidence exists on the efficacy of various pedagogical approaches to inquiry learning in non-formal settings. In this study, we examined the differential impact of three models of inquiry-based instruction on student learning outcomes during a weeklong residential environmental education (REE) program at TSS.  

Specifically, our mixed methods study used pre- and post-program student surveys, program observations, and student interviews to compare inquiry field research, citizen science research, and adventure hike experiences on student learning outcomes in three domains: attitudes about science, self-efficacy, and understandings of the nature of science.  Our results show that pedagogical approaches with increased student centeredness (field inquiry and adventure hike) resulted in increased student growth in attitudes about science and self-efficacy.   Those treatments that involved greater engagement in the process of science (citizen science, and field inquiry) showed greater student growth in understanding of the nature of science. The field inquiry treatment was unique in showing student growth in both cognitive and affective domains, and this finding deserves future investigation.  Overall, for the domains measured in this research, our data show that treatments that engage students in science investigations resulted in greater student growth than those that do not.


Dr. Ana Houseal, Outreach Science Educator, Science and Math Teaching Center, University of Wyoming

Dr.  Louis Nadelson, Chair, Associate Professor, Dept. of Leadership Studies, College of Education, University of Central Arkansas 

Clare Gunshenan, M.S. University of Wyoming

Allison Cross, graduate student, University of Wyoming

Teacher experience and training have important impacts on student achievement.  While each state creates and enforces standards for teacher certification, no state requires training in place based education, and nationally, very few teacher training or certification programs incorporate courses or practica in place-based pedagogy.  

Teton science schools has been offering teacher training and professional development courses in place-based pedagogy for 25 years.  In this thread of research, we seek to better understand if and how training and experience in place-based education has impacted teachers’ attitudes, practices, and efficacy.  We seek to critically test four hypotheses concerning teacher training in place-based education:

  1. Training in PBE improves teacher perceptions and delivery of place-based instruction.
  2. Training in PBE improves teacher and student engagement.
  3. Teacher training in PBE improves student learning outcomes (academic and social-emotional learning).
  4. Training in PBE improves teacher retention and leadership.

Leveraging our research-practice partnership with the University of Wyoming and our nascent Place Network of place-based schools across the nation, we seek to critically examine the above hypotheses.  Capitalizing on our highly collaborative grant-funded work with the University of Wyoming to implement teacher professional development across the state of Wyoming as well the national and international work of our Teacher Learning Center and Place Network, our work with educators becomes a laboratory to better understand effective teacher training. Spanning a series of master’s theses, this process is currently underway.  We will examine these hypotheses with a mixed methods approach: utilizing quantitative and qualitative data to understand both what the impact of our educator development programs are as well as why each is occurring. 


Dr. Kate Welsh, Associate Professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, University of Wyoming

Maggie Vest, M.A., University of Wyoming

Sarah Thacher, M.A., University of Wyoming

Megan Hedley, graduate student, University of Wyoming

TSS and Ohio University have collaborated on a week-long Ecology of Leadership course for undergraduates with the aim to teach leadership concepts and skills through the study of ecological systems and subsequent application to human systems. Topics include interconnectedness, interdependence, leverage points, resilience, inquiry, communication, and service.  This thread of research seeks to understand both short term and long term impacts to participant’s perceptions of their own leadership skills and social-emotional growth due to their participation in this course.   

This collaborative project between faculty at both TSS and Ohio is currently underway with one year of pilot data.  To hear more about the impacts of this course from the students and faculty themselves, check out this podcast made by Jennifer Shutt Bowie and Michelle O’Malley of Ohio University. 


Dr. Michelle O’Malley, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Ohio University

Jennifer Bowie, Assistant Vice President of Communication and Chief of Staff, University Advancement at Ohio University

Student engagement is a foundational element of student growth and learning.  Educators can offer amazing learning environments, but if students are not adequately engaged in learning, then student learning outcomes will fall short of what is possible.  In this research thread we seek to critically examine our hypothesis that place-based learning leads to increased student engagement. 

In collaboration with Dr. Bradley Smith at the University of Houston, we are in the preliminary stages of piloting a study on student engagement in place based education.  Using a within subject design, we seek to compare various measures of student engagement in place-based versus place-agnostic pedagogies. Student self-reported cognitive, behavioral, and affective elements of engagement will be paired with teacher reports of student engagement as well as direct observational measures of student engagement. 


Dr. Bradley Smith, Professor and Director, School Psychology Ph.D. Program, University of Houston

Research on Place Based Education

Interested in what the scientific literature says about place-based education?  Check out our searchable database of over 80 peer-reviewed articles on place-based education.

Research Database

Research About Teton Science Schools

Interested in peer-reviewed studies, dissertations and theses related to Teton Science Schools? Check out these publications.

TSS Related Research

Interested in conducting collaborative research with us?

The research program of Teton Science Schools seeks equitable and productive research-practice partnerships.  We welcome research of our programs, especially to critically examine our hypotheses about place based education and/or to answer pressing questions of practice in education.  If you are interested in working with us, please fill out the interest questionnaire below.

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Our Team

Our Collaborators