Collaborative Research: Making Space for Story-Based Tinkering to Scaffold Early Informal Engineering Learning
This project responds to calls to increase children's exposure and engagement in STEM at an early age. With the rise of the maker-movement, the informal and formal education sectors have witnessed a dramatic expansion of maker and tinkering spaces, programs, and curricula. This has happened in part because of the potential benefits of tinkering experiences to promote access and equity in engineering education. To realize these benefits, it is necessary to continue to make and iterate design and facilitation approaches that can deepen early engagement in disciplinary practices of engineering and other STEM-relevant skills. This project will investigate how stories can be integrated into informal STEM learning experiences for young children and their families. Stories can be especially effective because they bridge the knowledge and experiences young children and their caregivers bring to tinkering as well as the conversations and hands-on activities that can extend that knowledge. In addition, a unique contribution of the project is to test the hypothesis that stories can also facilitate spatial reasoning, by encouraging children to think about the spatial properties of their emerging structures.
This project uses design-based research methods to advance knowledge and the evidence base for practices that engender story-based tinkering. Using conjecture mapping, the team will specify their initial ideas and how it will be evident that design/practices impact caregivers-child behaviors and learning outcomes. The team will consider the demographic characteristics, linguistic practices, and funds of knowledge of the participants to understand the design practices (resources, activities) being implemented and how they potentially facilitate learning. The outcome of each study/DBR cycle serves as inputs for questions and hypotheses in the next. A culturally diverse group of 300+ children ages 5 to 8 years old and their parents at Chicago Children's Museum's Tinkering Lab will participate in the study to examine the following key questions: (1) What design and facilitation approaches engage young children and their caregivers in creating their own engineering-rich tinkering stories? (2) How can museum exhibit design (e.g., models, interactive displays) and tinkering stories together engender spatial thinking, to further enrich early STEM learning opportunities? and (3) Do the tinkering stories children and their families tell support lasting STEM learning? As part of the overall iterative, design-based approach, the team will also field test the story-based tinkering approaches identified in the first cycles of DBR to be most promising.
This project will result in activities, exhibit components, and training resources that invite visitors' stories into open-ended problem-solving activities. It will advance understanding of mechanisms for encouraging engineering learning and spatial thinking through direct experience interacting with objects, and playful, scaffolded (guided) problem-solving activities.
This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.
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