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Master of Arts (MA)




The current study aimed to promote parent-child interactions that could foster children's early STEM learning. Specifically, the current study focuses on four dimensions of family interactions that have been found in prior work to support children's learning and development: problem solving, parents’ and children’s elaborative talk, and parental autonomy support. This study examined how levels of support on each of these dimensions related to children's abilities to build and fix skyscrapers made out of plastic building materials in the Skyline exhibit at the Chicago Children's Museum. The participants were 74 families with 4- to 8- year old children (M = 6.47).

Families were provided with an Engineering Demonstration during which they were shown a key engineering principle, namely that cross-bracing makes structures sturdier. Families were also randomly assigned to receive or not receive Anticipated Transfer instructions prior to building. Families in the Anticipated Transfer condition were instructed that what the children learned while working on the first task would help them to solve the problem of the second task without their parents help. It was thought that by encouraging families to think about transfer of learning across different problems with the same solution, their building interactions would promote it. Building interactions in the first task were characterized in terms of four focal dimensions: (1) problem solving, (2) parental elaborativeness, (3) children’s elaborativeness, and (4) parental autonomy support. Sturdiness of the completed structures in both the first and second task was measured. There was also an effort to understand how children's prior knowledge might affect their building interactions and outcomes.

The results revealed that families who had received or had not received the Anticipated Transfer instructions did not differ from each other while building on the dimensions of problem solving, parental elaborativeness, children's elaborativeness, or parental autonomy support. The measure of problem solving was related to the sturdiness of the skyscraper in the first task. The measure of autonomy support was also related to the sturdiness of the second structure. Families with boys who were not in the Anticipated Transfer group built sturdier skyscrapers than those families with sons who received these instructions, but there were no differences by transfer group or child gender on the second, fixing task. Children’s prior knowledge was not related to measures of family interaction during building or building sturdiness. Results are discussed in terms of children’s STEM learning in informal educational environments, including museums.

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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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