Successful peer-to-peer practices in informal science learning (ISL) are often not well defined, but further investigation has the potential to help uncover how to motivate and scaffold children's joint learning in science and engineering. Team Hamster!, a PBS KIDS interactive digital series that helps youth think creatively and use engineering skills to solve problems with everyday tools, will be used to achieve the goals of this project. One goal is to investigate how engineering media can be intentionally co-designed with children from diverse, economically disadvantaged backgrounds in order to foster peer-to-peer engagement and learning. These naturally occurring, peer-to-peer interactions could be investigated to determine which hold the most potential for fostering learning in science and engineering. Additionally, this project seeks to provide a new standard for how producers can co-create media that reflects the interests, habits, and lived experiences of the children they aim to serve. Given the media habits of today's children, who often view videos, play video games, and discuss strategies and preferences with their friends and siblings, Team Hamster!'s 35 million digital game plays and 55 million video views can have a significant reach and impact on the youth who are served.
The project uses a participatory co-design approach with four groups of collaborators: youth, media designers, youth development experts, and STEM experts. There will be an impact study utilizing an experimental-control/pre-test-post-test design, with equal groups of approximately 120 children and their caregivers. Data from technology probes will be analyzed to create profiles of youth usage, with a focus on peer-to-peer engagement. Research will be used to address these questions: 1) What peer-to-peer joint media engagement practices are most promising for fostering engineering learning and exploration among diverse, economically disadvantaged 5 to 7 year-old children, and how might new design features of digital games and supporting videos promote these practices? 2) What design features of digital games and supporting videos best promote media-based peer-to-peer engagement around engineering learning and exploration? 3) To what extent do the digital games developed through this project foster engineering learning and exploration? 4) What are best practices for developing a participatory co-design process, occurring both online and in person, that is centered on the creation of digital game features and supporting videos that expand the reach of digital engineering games?
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