Tinkering With Testing: Understanding How Museum Program Design Advances Engineering Learning Opportunities for Children

July 8th, 2021 | RESEARCH

Using a design-based research approach, we studied ways to advance opportunities for children and families to engage in engineering design practices in an informal educational setting. 213 families with 5–11-year-old children were observed as they visited a tinkering exhibit at a children’s museum during one of three iterations of a program posing an engineering design challenge. Children’s narrative reflections about their experience were recorded immediately after tinkering. Across iterations of the program, changes to the exhibit design and facilitation provided by museum staff corresponded to increased families’ engagement in key engineering practices. In the latter two cycles of the program, families engaged in the most testing, and in turn, redesigning. Further, in the latter cycles, the more children engaged in testing and retesting during tinkering, the more their narratives contained engineering-related content. The results advance understanding and the evidence base for educational practices that can promote engineering learning opportunities for children.


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Team Members

Maria Marcus, Author, Roosevelt University
Diana Acosta, Author, Loyola University Chicago
Pirko Tougu, Author, University of Tartu
David Uttal, Author, Northwestern University
Catherine Haden, Author, Loyola University Chicago


Identifier Type: doi
Identifier: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.689425

Publication: Frontiers in Psychology


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1515788

Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1515771

Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1516541

Related URLs

Full Text
Collaborative Research: Advancing Early STEM Learning Opportunities Through Tinkering and Reflection


Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Evaluators | Families | Learning Researchers | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Pre-K Children (0-5)
Discipline: Education and learning science | Engineering
Resource Type: Peer-reviewed article | Research Products
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Making and Tinkering Programs | Museum and Science Center Exhibits | Museum and Science Center 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 InformalScience.org are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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