A Roosevelt University psychology professor and her colleagues have received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study learning among kids visiting a science exhibit at Chicago Children’s Museum.
Now in her second year at Roosevelt, Assistant Professor of Psychology Mia Marcus and fellow researchers from Loyola and Northwestern Universities see family visits to museums as opportunities for both playtime and learning.
They are looking for ways to enhance playful learning, particularly among kids who design, experiment and create using science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, at the museum’s Tinkering Lab.
“With this project, we hope to pinpoint factors that promote engagement in STEM,” said Marcus, who is part of the new three-year Advancing Informal STEM Learning project that began in the fall.
Data collection for the project gets underway at the museum on Dec. 26, 2019. Cameras, observation and sound recording are among tools that researchers will use to monitor activities and collect data about Tinkering Lab activities.
During the visit, kids may receive basic materials – bottle caps, wooden sticks, drinking straws and hot dog trays are just a few - and then be asked to design and create a new entity that is capable, for instance, of rolling down ramps and across tables in the lab.
Also during the visit, kids will be encouraged to verbalize the process that goes into the project, as well as recount concepts, formulas, steps and ideas they used for relatives and friends who were not present.
Data collected will be for a further in-depth, follow-up study led by Marcus, who will re-contact families that visited the museum and Tinkering Lab over the holiday break to find out what they remember.
“Museum exhibits are meant to engage people, and we hope through this project to ultimately determine what works best in stimulating STEM learning,” said Loyola University Psychology Professor Catherine Haden.
In fact, research outcomes could influence the way Chicago Children’s Museum works with children in the future, as well as the way the museum field in general develops future exhibits and programs, said the museum’s Associate Vice President of Play and Learning Tsivia Cohen.
Marcus, who completed a PhD at Loyola with Haden and a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Northwestern, subscribes to the theory that verbalization significantly improves learning – and that includes elaborate, open-ended conversations parents sometimes have with their kids.
“This project will be focused on the power of storytelling, both by kids and their parents,” she said. “There is a lot of research that suggests storytelling facilitates learning,” she added. “However, the real factor in determining storytelling’s true impact will be what kids remember from their own and their parents’ stories and conversations.”
The Roosevelt professor has received $135,000 from NSF to test the power of verbalization/storytelling.