Exploring Early Childhood STEM Tinkering Conference

Tuesday, September 1, 2020 to Monday, February 28, 2022
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Making and Tinkering Programs, Professional Development, Conferences, and Networks, Conferences, Informal/Formal Connections, Pre-K/Early Childhood Programs
Pre-K Children (0-5) | Families | Museum/ISE Professionals | Learning Researchers
Art, music, and theater | Education and learning science | Engineering | General STEM | Technology
Access and Inclusion: 
English Language Learners

In informal science contexts, the word tinkering describes a learning process that combines art, science, and technology through hands-on inquiry. With the growth in popularity of the making and tinkering movements nationwide, these practices are increasingly making their way into early childhood environments where they have great promise to positively impact the early STEM learning experiences of young children. This 2-day conference hosted at the Exploratorium in San Francisco will bring together stakeholders exploring applications of tinkering in informal early childhood environments. The conference will provide opportunities to explore the role, value, and challenges associated with implementing meaningful tinkering interventions in learning environments serving young children. The project seeks to 1) Convene stakeholders from the tinkering and early childhood programs; and 2) further the exploration and evolution of practitioner and researcher knowledge about tinkering in early childhood contexts. The long-term goal is to support more young children being introduced to STEM learning through tinkering's adaptable approaches to STEM-learning that align with the developmental needs of this young population.

This project will collaboratively analyze and document the state of the field of STEM-rich tinkering in informal early childhood contexts. Additionally, the project will deepen relationships across the early childhood tinkering ecosystem. Additional outcomes include an effort to provide tangible resources to the field highlighting current promising practices and future opportunities for development. The conference will also provide an understanding of how tinkering interventions may contribute to the development of STEM interest, identity and learning amongst early childhood audiences. Finally, the conference will bring together research and practitioners to explore how tinkering in early childhood settings can be used effectively to meet the needs of diverse learners including learners from underserved and underrepresented communities. The project will recruit a total of 75 participants with backgrounds in the field of tinkering and STEM learning, early childhood research, and professional development practices representing a diverse set of institutions and organizations. Research questions for the conference will focus on: 1) What types of supports and professional development do early childhood educators need to facilitate early STEM learning through tinkering? 2) What types of built environment and hands-on materials best support young children's ability to learn STEM content and practices through tinkering? 3) What types of strategies best support caregiver involvement in young children's learning? 4) What is the role of early childhood tinkering in young children?s STEM learning, interest, and identity development? 5) How can culturally and linguistically sustaining pedagogies be used to ensure equity across a diversity of young learners and their families? To answer these research questions the project will use qualitative methods before, during and post-conference. Research methods will include a landscape analysis identifying needs of participants, surveys, observations and informal interviews with participants.

This Conference 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.

Funding Program: 
Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 

Team Members

Mike PetrichMike PetrichPrincipal Investigator
Lianna KaliLianna KaliCo-Principal Investigator

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