2020 - 2024
This applied research project focuses on playful engagement with STEM exhibits for children three to eight years old. The project team is developing a tool for practitioners that can be used for reflection and evaluation of exhibit design, with an eye on broadening participation in early STEM engagement through play. The four-phase “Research in Service to Practice” study has received funding from the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program.
The iterative four-phase study has integrated practitioner knowledge through focus groups, existing literature, and practitioner feedback, while observations at six geographic locations across the US at both science centers and children’s museums provided further understanding of what facilitates a range of playful STEM opportunities at exhibits in children’s museums and science centers for young children and caregivers.
The project pursues the following research questions:
- What is a framework for play in early STEM learning that is inclusive of children’s cultural influences?
- In what ways do STEM exhibits for early learners support play in children’s museums and science centers, and what forms of play support STEM learning by early learners, and to what degree?
- To what extent do interactions between early learners and caregivers or peers as part of exhibits influence the structure and effectiveness of play for supporting STEM skill development?
- How do practitioners link play to STEM skill development, and to what extent does a framework for play in early STEM learning assist in identifying types of play that supports early STEM skill development?
- What do practitioners identify as best practices in exhibit design that support the development of STEM skills for early childhood audiences, and conversely, to what extent do practitioners perceive specific aspects of the design as influential to play?
This project is focused on early childhood learners at a time when they are just beginning to develop their self-identity through play and social interactions in conjunction with early STEM skill development. interPLAY is charged to create a tool that will ultimately support these developmental opportunities for early learners and their families. Furthermore, this project will provide valuable insights into the interplay between play, exhibit design, and STEM exhibit engagement, providing a conceptual framework that bridges the self-motivating power of play and free-choice STEM learning.
The project team from the center is being led by Kelly Hoke and includes Martin Storksdieck and Kelly Riedinger.