Understanding Physics through Collaborative Design and Play

Thursday, September 1, 2016 to Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Websites, Mobile Apps, and Online Media, Public Programs, Making and Tinkering Programs, Museum and Science Center Programs, Library Programs, Aquarium and Zoo Programs, Professional Development, Conferences, and Networks, Resource Centers and Networks, Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits
Elementary School Children (6-10) | Pre-K Children (0-5) | Families | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals
Access and Inclusion: 
Hispanic/Latinx Communities
Iowa Children's Museum, University of Washington, University of Iowa

This project had three objectives to build knowledge with respect to advancing Informal STEM Education:

  1. Plan, prototype, fabricate, and document a game-linked design-and-play STEM exhibit for multi-generational adult-child interaction utilizing an iterative exhibit design approach based on research and best practices in the field;
  2. Develop and disseminate resources and models for collaborative play-based exhibits to the informal STEM learning community of practice of small and mid-size museums including an interactive, tangible tabletop design-and-play game and a related tablet-based game app for skateboarding science and technology design practice;
  3. Conduct research on linkages between adult-child interactions and game-connected play with models in informal STEM learning environments. 

 Linked to these objectives were three project goals:

  1. Develop tools to enable children ages 5-8 to collaboratively refine and test their own theories about motion by exploring fundamental science concepts in linked game and physical-object design challenge which integrates science (Newton’s Laws of Motion) with engineering (iterative design and testing), technology (computational models), and mathematics (predictions and comparisons of speed, distance, and height). [Linked to Objectives 1 & 3]
  2. Advance the informal STEM education field’s understanding of design frameworks that integrate game environments and physical exhibit elements using tangibles and playful computational modeling and build upon the “Dimensions of Success” established STEM evaluation models. [Linked to Objectives 1 & 2]
  3. Examine methods to strengthen collaborative learning within diverse families through opportunities to engage in STEM problem-based inquiry and examine how advance training for parents influences the extent of STEM content in conversations and the quality of interactions between caregivers and children in the museum setting. [Linked to Objectives 1 & 3]

The exhibit designed and created as a result of this grant project integrates skateboarding and STEM in an engaging context for youth ages 5 to 8 to learn about Newton’s Laws of Motion and connect traditionally underserved youth from rural and minority areas through comprehensive outreach. The exhibit design process drew upon research in the learning sciences and game design, science inquiry and exhibit design, and child development scholarship on engagement and interaction in adult-child dyads.

Overall, the project "Understanding Physics through Collaborative Design and Play: Integrating Skateboarding with STEM in a Digital and Physical Game-Based Children’s Museum Exhibit" accomplished three primary goals. First, we planned, prototyped, fabricated, and evaluated a game-linked design-and-play STEM gallery presented as a skatepark with related exhibits for adult-child interaction in a Children's Museum.

Second, we engaged in a range of community outreach and engagement activities for children traditionally underserved in Museums. We developed and disseminated resources for children to learn about the physics of the skatepark exhibit without visiting the Museum physically. For example, balance board activities were made portable, the skatepark video game was produced in app and web access formats, and ramps were created from block sets brought to off-site locations.

Third, we conducted a range of research to better understand adult-child interactions in the skatepark exhibit in the Children's Museum and to explore learning of physics concepts during physical and digital play. Our research findings collectively provide a new model for Children's Museum exhibit developers and the informal STEM education community to intentionally design, evaluate, and revise exhibit set-up, materials, and outcomes using a tool called "Dimensions of Success (DOS) for Children's Museum Exhibits." Research also produced a tool for monitoring the movement of children and families in Museum exhibit space, including time on task with exhibits, group constellation, transition time, and time in gallery. Several studies about adult-child interactions during digital STEM and traditional pretend play in the Museum produced findings about social positioning, interaction style, role, and affect during play.

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

Team Members

Deb DunkhaseDeb DunkhasePrincipal Investigator
Kristen MissallKristen MissallCo-Principal Investigator
Benjamin DeVaneBenjamin DeVaneCo-Principal Investigator

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