Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Educators and researchers suggest that informal learning activities in museums, libraries, and families’ homes can promote children’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning (Sobel & Jipson, 2016). Tinkering, a form of hands-on problem-solving involving real tools and materials, is one way to engage families in engineering design processes. However, tinkering activities vary greatly in terms of the goals presented, the resources available, and opportunities to test (Bevan, 2017). Across three studies, we examined how variations in tinkering exhibit design and parent-child interaction relate to children’s memory and STEM learning. In Study 1, we examined the structure and content of families’ reflections after visiting a tinkering exhibit in a children’s museum (Pagano et al., 2019). Children who used their tinkering projects in their reflections contributed more statements to the reflections than children who did not. Children who participated in Make It Roll, a tinkering program with a function-focused goal and a ramp for testing, talked more about engineering in their reflections than children who participated in the open-ended Woodshop Plus program. In Study 2, we considered families’ interactions during tinkering and reflection. Families who participated in function-focused programs with opportunities for testing (i.e., Make It Roll, Make It Fly), talked more about engineering during tinkering than families in other types of programs (i.e., Make a Robot, Make Something That Does Something). Further, families’ engineering talk during tinkering was associated with their engineering talk in the reflections. Finally, in Study 3 we explored how digital storytelling during tinkering and reflection could support engineering talk, memory, and learning. Children who created digital stories during tinkering talked more about engineering in their reflections and remembered more about engineering weeks later than children who did not create digital stories. As in Study 2, we found links between children’s engineering talk during tinkering and their engineering talk at reflection. Taken together, these three studies in the bundled dissertation provide useful information for educators, practitioners, and parents who wish to support children’s STEM learning through tinkering.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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