Research Program

I’m primarily interested in the development of children’s scientific thinking abilities but am also interested in the role of the social environment in this development. I am exploring these interests through several different lines of work.

Children’s explanatory preferences when it comes to learning science

Children are born curious (Jirout & Klahr, 2012) and from a very young age, they ask lots of questions about the world around them: “Why do the stars shine?”; “Why is the ocean blue?”. In response to these questions, children might hear a variety of explanations from their parents, teachers or other sources, and the kind of explanation children hear will depend on their informant’s explanatory style and knowledge. Some informants might choose to provide causal explanations, like “The stars shine because they are balls of light”, while others will provide purpose-based explanations like “The stars shine to make the night less dark” or “The stars shine to make the night sky prettier”. Others might say things like “The stars shine because it’s dark outside” or “The stars shine because it’s dark”

To examine how hearing different kinds of explanations influence children’s science knowledge, one project examines how children’s science knowledge and beliefs about the world are influenced by the kinds of explanations they hear.

Children’s learning of complex science ideas through education interventions

I am currently a member of the Evolving Minds project, which studies elementary-aged children’s learning of evolution by natural selection through a curriculum that is designed to teach about the causal mechanisms underlying the process. See our website for more information

The role of science identity in children’s learning

In all of my on-going projects, I’m very interested in the role of science identity in children’s learning and the development of their science reasoning skills. Science identity refers to the extent to which children think of themselves as capable of doing and learning science, and how much they believe others (parents, friends, teachers, etc) think they are capable of learning and doing science.

Children’s learning from educational media

Educational media (e.g., books, television shows) is an important educational resource: not only do children commonly engage with it, but many parents and educators report using media at home and in classroom settings (Silander et al., 2018). Developmental and educational research has found that children can learn scientific concepts from storybooks (Bonus & Mares, 2018; Ganea et al., 2011; Kelemen et al., 2014; Leech et al., 2020) and watching educational media during early childhood is associated with better educational outcomes in high school (Anderson et al., 2001). However, not as much work has examined whether children can learn science from television shows and movies despite the large amount of time children spend engaging with video media (Rideout et al., 2014) and the large amount of funding that is used to create this media.

To help fill this gap, one on-going project examines whether children can learn about environmental sustainability/resource conservation by watching a popular educational television show on this topic. Data collection is still underway, but some preliminary results were presented at the 2022 Cognitive Development Society meeting. Please email me if you’d like to request a copy of our poster.  

**The Scientific Thinking and Representation Lab at Villanova University also recently published a content analysis examining children’s educational science media. See our paper here.

Questions? Comments? Thoughts?

I love talking about this research and am always open to hearing questions and ideas!

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