Investigating the Impact of Head Start Family Interactions on Children’s STEM Process Skills during Family Events at Two Science Centers

September 15th, 2020 - August 31st, 2022 | PROJECT

Parents and adult caregivers play a significant role in young children's understanding of (and participation in) science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Research suggests that early engagement with STEM can have a profound impact on children's use of STEM process skills such as exploration, observation, and problem-solving, as well as future academic success. An immediate yet ongoing challenge facing informal STEM learning providers is to understand how limited resources can be used to support effective STEM learning opportunities and experiences for all children and families. Through a collaboration between researchers, Head Start, two science centers (one rural, one urban), and educators, this project aims to foster STEM access and engagement with specific attention to young children and their caregivers. 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 Pilot and Feasibility study will apply an experimental, mixed-methods design to examine parent/caregiver and child (ages 4-5) interactions before, during, and after informal STEM experiences to identify which factors influence children's transfer of learning STEM process skills across multiple informal contexts. Research results will lay the foundation for a future longitudinal study. The project team will ask: (1) What types of parent/caregiver-child engagement at the science center are most predictive of children's application of STEM process skills in subsequent problem-solving tasks and school readiness? (2) How do variations in parent/caregiver-child conversational strategies during the science center visit influence children's memory and learning? and (3) How can informal educators best support Head Start family engagement and children's emerging STEM knowledge? This study will collect data on 240, 4-5-year-old children, with their caregivers, in two different science centers that serve a largely rural and largely urban population. Data sources will include video/audio of caregiver-child interactions at the science centers and at home, as well as children's recall, engagement with a problem-solving task, and school readiness scores. Coding and analysis of the tasks during and after the science center visit will detail mechanisms underlying children's memory, learning, and application of STEM process skills that transfer to the problem-solving task. The project will be implemented by a research-practice partnership, leveraging the expertise of project partners and communities to ensure the use of culturally responsive research practices. This research has the potential to strategically impact how science centers and Head Start grantees work together on Family Engagement programming to achieve equitable STEM learning opportunities, broadening participation for low-income young children and their families.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2021 Poster - Investigating the Impact of Head Start Family Interactions on Children’s STEM Process Skills during Family Events at Two Science Centers
2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 2005594

Team Members

Michelle Kortenaar, Principal Investigator, Sciencenter
Jennifer Schwade, Former Principal Investigator
Erin Jant, Co-Principal Investigator
Stacy Prinzing, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2005594
Funding Amount: $297,336


Access and Inclusion: Low Socioeconomic Status | Rural | Urban
Audience: Educators | Teachers | Museum | ISE Professionals | Parents | Caregivers | Pre-K Children (0-5)
Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Informal | Formal Connections | Museum and Science Center Programs | Pre-K | Early Childhood Programs | Public Programs

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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