Collaborative Research: Tinkering and Making Strategies to Engage Children and Families in Creating with Code
There is a national need to expand opportunities to learn coding and computational thinking in informal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. These skills are increasingly needed in STEM disciplines. As young people learn to code, they engage in computational thinking concepts and practices which are problem solving strategies that include repeated process (iterative) design skills. This project promotes innovation by designing and developing activities for tinkering spaces (a space filled with materials for hands-on exploration of STEM) combined with coding in informal learning organizations such as museums, and community centers. The project supports both tinkering and making as methods to meaningfully incorporate computational thinking in STEM learning experiences. The tinkering approach to learning is characterized by hands-on, trial and error engagement. Making is similar to tinkering with additional attention to learning with peer groups. The long-term goal of the project is to enable informal educators to engage in STEM programming with youth and families from underrepresented groups. The project brings together interdisciplinary teams from the Department of Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium, and the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the Massachusetts Institution of Technology. In collaboration with local partner sites, the project team will design and disseminate a collection of six computational tinkering activity areas that engage learners in creative explorations using a combination of physical objects and computational code. The team will develop visual coding "microworlds" for each of the activity areas, specialized sets of coding blocks designed to provide scaffolding. Additionally, the project team will design and develop facilitation guides to document these activities and facilitation strategies, as well as workshops to better support facilitators in making and tinkering spaces.
The project enhances knowledge building through investigations of what instructional supports informal educators need to develop effective facilitation practices that engage underrepresented youth and families in STEM computational learning experiences. Study participants will include informal educators in museum, library, and community-based settings with varying backgrounds and experiences facilitating computing activities. The project team will also engage youth and families from underrepresented groups through collaborative efforts with community-based partners. Research questions include: 1) What challenges and barriers do informal learning educator, face to engage their learners in design-based activities with computing? 2) What supports informal learning educators to take on key facilitation practices that support children and families in computational tinkering activities? 3) In jointly engaging in these computational tinkering activities, how do the activities and informal learning educators? facilitation of these activities impact children's and families' development of computational tinkering and identities as creators and learners with computing? To answer these research questions the project will use qualitative ethnographic methods to study the developing interactions between learners and facilitators at three local sites. Comparative case studies of facilitators across the local partner sites will also be used to examine what supports facilitators to take on key facilitation practices. Data sources will include participant observation of facilitators and families, documentation in the form of photos, videos, and audio recordings, project artifacts, bi-monthly short surveys with reflective prompts, and interviews with facilitators and families.
This award is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.