Food for Thought: Igniting, Engaging, and Measuring Family STEM Learning Using a Food Lab

July 1st, 2019 - June 30th, 2022 | PROJECT

Families play a large role in igniting children's interest in science pathways, but they may not always have access to high-quality materials that demonstrate clear connections between science and their daily lives. This project will address this issue by developing high-interest materials that teach the science of food preparation to families with children ages 7-13. These materials include the following four components: (a) Food Labs, food-based investigations taking place in museums or in food service facilities; (b) take-home kits allowing families to conduct similar types of Food Labs at home; (c) a series of question starters called Promoting Interest and Engagement in Science (PIES) designed to facilitate meaningful family conversations around food preparation; and (d) a mobile app designed to deepen families' understandings of relevant science concepts and containing embedded measures of STEM learning. This project will advance knowledge regarding features of take-home materials that foster family science learning and ignite children's interest in science pathways.

This Innovations in Development Project will result in empirically-tested instructional materials that support families, with children ages 7-13, in conducting scientific investigations and holding scientific conversations related to food preparation. Kent State University, in partnership with The Cincinnati Museum Center and La Soupe, a food service provider for families who face food insecurity, will collaboratively develop and test the four interrelated sets of instructional materials mentioned above that are designed to deepen families' scientific content knowledge related to the chemistry of food preparation. To iteratively design and evaluate these materials, the team will conduct both laboratory and in-vivo experiments using a Solomon design with a pre- and post-demonstration survey. The survey will measure children's interest, knowledge, and engagement. For a month after interacting with instructional materials, families will document their science activity at home through the app. Additionally, through analyzing audio-recordings, the team will determine whether and how families ask questions using the PIES materials. Finally, post-demonstration interviews with participating families will focus on the usability and accessibility of the instructional materials. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of the pre-post surveys, interview transcripts, and audio-recordings will be used to improve the instructional materials, and the revised materials will be re-assessed using the same experimental methods and outcome measures. The final set of instructional materials will be developed and widely disseminated for easy use at other science museums, food service providers, and in families' homes. This project leverages partnerships to generate empirical knowledge on features of learning environments that support family science learning and engagement, resulting in empirically-based materials designed to broaden participation in science. This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2021 STEM for All Video Showcase Video: Food for Thought: Food Labs and Family STEM Learning
Food For Thought Summer Camp 2022 Evaluation Report
Food For Thought Summer Camp 2023 Evaluation Report

Team Members

Bradley Morris, Principal Investigator, Kent State University
John Dunlosky, Co-Principal Investigator
Whitney Owens, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1906706
Funding Amount: $854,026


Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Evaluators | Families | Learning Researchers | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Health and medicine
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Media and Technology | Museum and Science Center Programs | Public Programs | Websites | Mobile Apps | Online Media