|Abstract or Summary
- This study explores the role of classroom use of live organisms as a pathway for the spread of invasive species. The overall guiding research question is “Are behavioral changes necessary to reduce the spread from the classroom pathway?” Using focus groups comprised of key educators, this study seeks to identify attitudes, norms, and barriers to inform the development of solutions to mitigate the spread of aquatic invasive species from the classroom. A modified version of the Theory of Planned Behavior is used to tabulate values, knowledge, concerns, and solutions that could lead to behavioral change. A total of 65 educators participated in six different focus groups, with nearly half of the participants elementary teachers. Findings indicate strong educational, use-related, and ethical values deeply rooted in having, and continuing to have, live organisms in the classroom. Information about invasive species, however, is not perceived as readily available, and credible sources are often difficult to discern by participants who are mainly searching online for needed information. Logistical concerns, euthanization practices, ecological damages, and children’s outdoor experiences are described as potential barriers to behavior change, and educational liaisons, outreach activities, and policy changes are suggested solutions intended to change behavior. Using the Theory of Planned Behavior as a foundational theory and Multiple Streams framework as a policy guide, this study recommends five specific actions be taken by policy entrepreneurs: (1) Fund, develop, and maintain an invasive species informational website where educators can go for up-to-date references on sourcing, care and handling, disposal, and species identification. (2) Create example fact sheets for organism suppliers and encourage their adoption by the suppliers. (3) Add invasive species educational standards on a national scale through the NSTA and NISC, and provide teachers with curriculum suggestions involving the integration of invasive species education into core subject matter. (4) Develop and test an invasive species professional development training seminar for K-12 educators to be applied to large scale science association meetings or local in-service days. (5) Seek funding for the development of invasive species education curriculum that could be implemented through credentialing programs.