Teaching Together: Engaging Parents and Preschoolers in STEM Activities & Academic Conversations

September 1st, 2018 - August 31st, 2022 | PROJECT

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches and resources for use in a variety of settings. This project examines the conditions in which families and young learners most benefit from "doing science and math" together among a population that is typically underserved with respect to STEM experiences--families experiencing poverty. This project builds on an existing program called Teaching Together that uses interactive parent-child workshops led by a museum educator and focused on supporting STEM learning at home. The goal of these workshops is to increase parents'/caregivers' self-perception and ability to serve as their child's first teacher by supporting learning and inquiry conversations during daily routines and informal STEM activities. Families attend a series of afternoon and evening workshops at their child's preschool center and at a local children's museum. Parents/Caregivers may participate in online home learning activities and museum experiences. The project uses an experimental design to test the added value of providing incremental supports for informal STEM learning. The study uses an experimental design to address potential barriers parents/caregivers may perceive to doing informal STEM activities with their child. The project also explores how the quantity and quality parent-child informal learning interactions may relate to changes in children's science and mathematics knowledge during the pre-kindergarten year. The project partners include the Children's Learning Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and the Children's Museum of Houston.

The project is designed to increase understanding of how parents/caregivers can be encouraged to support informal STEM learning by experimentally manipulating key aspects of the broader expectancy-value-cost motivation theory, which is well established in psychology and education literatures but has not been applied to preschool parent-child informal STEM learning. More specifically, the intervention conditions are designed to identify how specific parent supports can mitigate potential barriers that families experiencing poverty face. These intervention conditions include: modeling of informal STEM learning during workshops to address skills and knowledge barriers; materials to address difficulties accessing science and math resources; and incentives as a way to address parental time pressures and/or costs and thereby improve involvement in informal learning activities. Intervention effects will be calculated in terms of effect sizes and potential mediators of change will be explored with structural equation modeling. The first phase of the project uses an iterative process to refine the curriculum and expand the collection of resources designed for families of 3- to 5-year-olds. The second phase uses an experimental study of the STEM program to examine conditions that maximize participation and effectiveness of family learning programs. In all, 360 families will be randomly assigned to four conditions: 1) business-as-usual control; 2) the Teaching Together core workshop-based program; 3) Teaching Together workshops + provision of inquiry-based STEM activity kits for the home; and 4) Teaching Together workshop + activity kits + provision of monetary incentives for parents/caregivers when they document informal STEM learning experiences with their child. The interventions will occur in English and Spanish. A cost analysis across the interventions will also be conducted. This study uses quantitative and qualitative approaches. Data sources include parent surveys and interviews, conversation analysis of home learning activities, parent photo documentation of informal learning activities, and standardized assessments of children's growth in mathematics, science, and vocabulary knowledge.

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

2019 AISL PI Meeting Poster - Teaching Together: Engaging Parents and Preschoolers in STEM Activities & Academic Conversations
2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 1811356

Team Members

Tricia Zucker, Principal Investigator, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1811356
Funding Amount: $1,039,431.00


Access and Inclusion: Low Socioeconomic Status
Audience: Families | Learning Researchers | 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 | Media and Technology | Museum and Science Center Programs | Pre-K | Early Childhood Programs | Public Programs | Websites | Mobile Apps | Online Media