We are interested in how children’s scientific reasoning develops—and how this might link to later science understanding. Two components of children’s natural curiosity are exploration and explanation–their tendencies to explore causal connections through play and to explain unexpected outcomes. Our research has demonstrated that unexpected or anomalous events are powerful triggers for explanatory reasoning. Children try to explain unexpected outcomes and explore causal connections through play.
In ongoing research funded by the National Science Foundation we are examining how children’s explanations and exploratory play behavior work in tandem to guide their causal learning and scientific reasoning, and the implications of this process for improving science education in schools and children’s museums. We are currently examining how exploration and explanation emerge in children’s everyday interactions with family members.
Supporting Adults as Children’s Learning Facilitators: A Museum-University Research Partnership (2019-2021)
This 2-year Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded project has allowed us to build infrastructure and capacity through the design and construction of a 130 sq ft onsite research headquarters, Thinkery Connect Headquarters (HQ). Our research team is translating best practices in learning sciences and exhibit design to increase public understanding of children’s learning and to promote STEAM education.
Thinkery Connect HQ has three sections, a “Research Hub” for conducting research on children’s learning and development, a “Community Resource Nook” with curated materials for parents and caregivers seeking resources on early learning and development, and a “Prototype Zone” for exhibit prototyping and evaluation. Results from research we have conducted in the Research Hub will come to life in the museum as bilingual exhibit experiences. Exhibit design supports caregivers as facilitators of children’s STEAM education and experience. Exhibits developed in the Thinkery Connect HQ will be labelled throughout the museum, integrating research and development into Thinkery’s educational fabric.
Explaining, Exploring, and Scientific Reasoning in Museum Settings (2015-2018)
In order to improve science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) learning, it is crucial to better understand the informal experiences that young children have that prepare them for formal science education. Young children are naturally curious about the world around them, and research in developmental psychology shows that families often support children in exploring and seeking explanations for scientific phenomena. It is less clear how to link children’s natural curiosity and everyday parent-child interaction with more formal STEM learning.
This collaborative project teamed researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, The University of Texas at Austin, and Brown University with informal learning practitioners at the Children’s Discovery Museum, Thinkery, and the Providence Children’s Museum. The project investigated how family interaction relates to children’s causal learning, as well as how modifications to museum exhibit design and facilitation by museum staff influence families’ styles of interaction and increase children’s causal learning. This project was funded by the Research on Education and Learning (REAL) program, which supports fundamental research by investigators from a range of disciplines in order to deepen what is known about STEM learning.
In this collaborative research project we examined how ethnically and linguistically diverse samples of parents and children in three children’s museums across the U.S. engage in collaborative scientific learning. The research combined observational studies of parent-child interaction in a real-world setting with experimental measures of children’s causal learning. Our research team examined how children explore and explain mechanical gear functions, air flow, electric circuits, and simple machines. In this way, the researchers investigated the relation between styles of parent-child interaction and children’s causal learning. We are in the process of investigating novel ways of presenting material within the exhibits to facilitate exploration and explanation. We have examined how exhibit signage, conversations with museum staff, parents’ attitudes towards learning in museum settings, and parents’ own prior knowledge about the exhibits can influence caregiver-child interaction and subsequent causal learning.
We seek to advance what is known about what affects children’s science learning. We also seek to advance the practice-oriented goal of developing new strategies for the design of science museum exhibits and make recommendations for how caregivers and educators can foster conversations with children about scientific processes.
Published Research from Thinkery Connect
What motivates children’s reasoning about cause and effect—and how might this link to later science understanding? Children actively seek to understand the world around them—they seek explanations for why and how things happen.
Our research has shown that unexpected events or outcomes motivate children seek out and provide explanations . Children try to explain unexpected phenomena and they explore causal connections through play. Our studies demonstrate that children’s explanations and exploratory play behavior work in tandem to guide their causal learning and scientific reasoning.
How do children use questions as tools to acquire new knowledge? Much of what children learn is based on information acquired through the testimony of others. We are investigating the development of inquiry in early childhood by examining the development of questions as problem-solving tools.
How can caregivers most effectively support the development of children’s scientific reasoning and promote STEAM Habits of Mind? We are currently studying how exploration and explanation emerge in children’s everyday interactions with family members in informal learning settings like children’s science museums. In the context of conducting research on family conversation and play, we are working to bridge the disciplines of developmental psychology, science education, and informal learning, to advance our understanding of children’s scientific thinking.
Explore empirical research on these topics: http://cristinelegare.com/academic-articles/tag/Causal+Reasoning
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. IMLS Grant Number MA-10-19-0438-19.
The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations on this website do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services