Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Curriculum and Instruction

Committee Director

Angela Eckhoff

Committee Member

Jori Beck

Committee Member

Eddie Hill


There has been an increase in interest in service learning in the past decade (Kuh et al., 2017). However, there has been less attention given to service learning in elementary school, particularly to service learning that does not focus on academic outcomes for the students (Scott & Graham, 2015). This qualitative instrumental case study utilized focus groups with fifth grade students, interviews with educators, education specialists and a nonprofit representative, and observational notes to explore students’ and educators’ experiences as they participated in a service learning project in conjunction with a nonprofit organization. Findings indicate that specific collaborative practices, such as a teamwork model and the sharing of resources, were important to enable the teachers to conduct service learning projects with their students. The service learning project aligned with the four stages of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle—abstract conceptualization, active experimentation, concrete experience, reflective observation—although there was a general lack of critical self-reflection opportunities for the students. Additionally, fifth grade students exhibited an interest in future service learning projects as a result of the project. Findings indicate that empathy played an important role in the project, with empathy presented more as sympathy in some instances. Implications from the study suggest the need for more collaborative supports for teachers to enable them to plan in-depth service learning projects for their students, while incorporating content standards, more support for teachers to understand the stages of the Experiential Learning Cycle and how to plan service learning activities that include the four stages, and opportunities for students to build their capacity for empathy as “perspective taking” rather than as sympathy (Davis, 1994; Warren, 2018).


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