Science Learning+: Understanding the Role of Embodied Interaction in Pre-K Children's Learning about Science in Informal Settings
Science researchers and practitioners are often challenged by how best to assess the effectiveness of science activities on young children whose language skills are still emerging. Yet, research has demonstrated the critical importance of early learning on individual potential. Building on evidence that movement is tightly intertwined with thinking, this project will investigate how thought and movement link as embodied learning to accelerate science understanding. Research will be conducted in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) with the aim to gather evidence for embodied interactions during science learning and articulate design principles about how museum exhibits can most effectively encourage cognitive and physical engagement with science. Such guidelines are largely absent in the field of informal STEM learning, and so this project seeks transformational change in how learning is understood and recognizes that changes in knowledge can be developed and revealed through body-based movements as well as verbally. Such a view is critically important given that many early learners communicate understanding through nonverbal channels before verbal. Research will be conducted with a diverse population of children and will explore the application of embodied learning to communities that are underrepresented in STEM. This project is funded through Science Learning+, which is an international partnership between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Wellcome Trust with the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The goal of this joint funding effort is to make transformational steps toward improving the knowledge base and practices of informal STEM experiences. Within NSF, Science Learning+ is part of the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program that seeks to enhance learning in informal environments and to broaden access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences.
During a 3-year period, researcher-practitioner teams across six museum sites will collaboratively investigate the links between movement and learning outcomes at selected science exhibits designed for young learners. Research activities will involve iteration and refinement of new instruments and protocols, through analysis of observed and automated capture of interaction data, and synthesis and interpretation of data. A design-based research methodology will be applied to address three key questions: 1) What elements of sensory and action experiences are key to informing the design of exhibits that aim to exploit embodied interactions for learning; 2) What is the role of bodily enactment /gestures in assessing children's understanding of science concepts; and 3) What cultural differences in kinds of embodied engagement emerge across diverse museum settings? Video and audio data of 400 children's exhibit interactions will be collected. Pre/post semi-structured interviews will be conducted with a subset of these participants and will focus on children's understanding of relevant science concepts as well as personal reflections on their physical and emotional experience engaging with the exhibit. This project would raise awareness of embodied approaches to learning as well as build stronger collaborations between informal STEM educators and cognitive researchers. Utilization of informal and formal dissemination networks will support wide diffusion of project outcomes. This is critically important given strong evidence pointing to the impact of preschool education in underserved populations, and ongoing national efforts by the US and UK to improve the quality of STEM learning in preschool contexts.
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