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Recognition of the importance of providing science-related experiences for young children has resulted in increased numbers of outreach programs aimed at a preschool audience. Early meaningful experiences of science have been found to promote children’s interest in science and enhance their self-belief that they can be effective science learners. However, ensuring that outreach programs fulfill their potential depends largely on the pedagogical approaches of the informal educators who deliver the program. Understanding how young children learn and valuing the range of knowledge and experience they bring provides a context in which their formative ideas about science can be shaped. In this chapter we draw upon our research into one outreach program with 3- and 4-year-old children where we worked with informal science educators to promote a positive environment that encouraged learning through play. We found that effective pedagogy involved active participation by the educator throughout the program. This role involves, firstly, emotional support, followed by modelling and encouraging exploration by the children, and then questioning. Through this process informal science educators can develop science conversations with children to extend their current knowledge and ideas. Our research emphasized that informal science educators must thoroughly understand the purpose and potential of their outreach program as a whole and that it is more than offering young children a variety of interesting activities.

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... It is not surprising, then, that a detailed study by Howitt et al. (2017) concluded that science outreach programs aimed at young children should provide emotional support to encourage children's exploration of the exhibits, incorporate modelling to demonstrate how exhibits work, and use open-ended questions to extend children's thinking. Further, outreach staff should assist adult carers to understand and acknowledge the place of play and learning as complementary; encourage active adult engagement with the children and the exhibits; and acknowledge children as capable and competent science thinkers, learners and communicators. ...
... Notably, children used their own language in the verbal communication, such as the term 'slimy slopey' to describe the concave slope of a mirror. Howitt et al. (2017) have previously noted the importance of accepting children's language and allowing them to provide an answer that makes sense to them. This approach acknowledges children's competence and developing skills. ...
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This paper describes how individualized photobooks were used to support 3- and 4-year-old children in demonstrating their science learning and developing their science identity through participation in a science outreach program. Photographic images stimulate children’s visual thinking and allow them to provide explanations of complex concepts using their language, thus supporting children at their level of understanding. Twenty child/parent dyads were video-recorded interacting with the exhibits during a Science Outreach program into Western Australian community playgroups. Screen shots from the video-recordings were used to develop individual printed photobooks for each child. One week after the program, the photobooks were used in a photo-elicitation conversation with the children (accompanied by their parents) about how the exhibits worked. Children took their photobooks home and 7 weeks after the program parents were interviewed about how the photobooks were used. The photobooks were found to assist the children in demonstrating their science understandings by providing a context for conversation and allowing the children to show their competence, use multiple forms of communication (verbal, non-verbal and through parent), and participate or withdraw on their terms. At home, the photobooks were found to be a focus for the children to share their knowledge of the Outreach program with family members, give the children a voice, and provide them with time to express their understandings. Having the child as narrator of his/her story and the adult as listener empowered the child’s sense of identity. The use of individualized photobooks was found to contribute to the development of the children’s identity and increase their agency in science and enhanced the parents’ perceptions of their children as young scientists.
... Both Barriault and Pearson (2010) and Hutt's epistemic behaviour are aimed at describing or categorising learning behaviour. Hutt's category for ludic behaviour seemed to describe the kinds of activities we had seen in previous work with young children (Howitt et al., 2017;Rennie & McClafferty, 2002). We decided to explore a combination of the two by using the categories of the Visitor Engagement Framework to describe epistemic behaviour, aimed at cognitive learning and knowledge building, and Hutt's ludic behaviour categories to describe the symbolic and repetitive play young children evidence. ...
The Children’s Engagement Behaviour Framework was developed to describe young children’s engagement with science exhibits and how their behaviour is related to learning about the exhibits. The Framework was synthesised from frameworks in research literature related to family learning and the nature of play. It describes three categories of epistemic behaviour and two categories of ludic play behaviour. Field-testing in a playgroup environment where young children engaged with science exhibits revealed that its five categories effectively captured the range of engagement behaviours children displayed. The Framework was used to code video-recordings of 20 children in five further playgroups, categorising 89 child-exhibit interactions lasting at least 30 s. The inter-coder agreement was 93% and differences were easily resolved. The highest level of epistemic behaviour was recorded at each exhibit and 29 instances of ludic behaviour occurred. Children were interviewed using stills from their video-recording to stimulate discussion about exhibits. Epistemic behaviour was strongly related to learning about how the exhibit worked but ludic behaviour had no relationship with such learning. This research has demonstrated the relationship between observable epistemic behaviour and learning and provided a Framework for research into the engagement behaviour of young children. Practical applications of the Framework arediscussed.
... Children should be allowed free time to interact with family or peers or engage in independent play (van Beynen & Burress, 2018). Informal learning activities, which include play, allow the participant to better understand connections between cause and effect (Andre, Durksen, & Volman, 2017;Howitt, Blake, & Rennie, 2017). Example: When children rolled dice in the sea turtle obstacle course, the dice determined if the turtle (participant) reproduced, moved through the Turtle Excluder Device, ate a plastic bag, etc. ...
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Despite the growing popularity and frequency of science festivals in the United States (US), the body of science festival research is limited. Using the lens of experiential learning theory, we examined the lasting impacts of science festivals on individual family members’ perspectives of the experience, and the similarities and differences in parent and children perspectives. The participants were 175 visitors and five families (7 children, 6 adults), who attended a science-themed festival. On the day of the event, 175 participants completed a questionnaire. Three months later individual family members participated in a drawing, drawing description, and interview. The results indicate that children described themselves as active participants, while parents portrayed themselves as onlookers. Families attended the event as a unit, but the experiences individuals described were dissimilar. The findings have implications for researchers and practitioners who design science festival programs. A discussion of seven characteristics of successful activities are included.
Informal science educators’ goals for preschool-age audiences (ages 3–5 years) shape how they design opportunities for children and families to learn science. However, little research has explored the opportunities provided by informal science educators for preschool-age children to engage in science practices. We invited 12 informal science educators across multiple informal science venues (including nature parks, planetaria, and science centers) in the U.S. to be interviewed and observed facilitating programs with a preschool-age audience at their venue. Using thematic analysis, we found that while four out of twelve educators in our study provided opportunities for young children to engage in science practices, the remaining programs provide only intermittent (four educators) or no opportunities (four educators) for young visitors to do science as an active, social engagement with science phenomena in the natural world. The extent to which educators designed and engaged preschool-age children in science practices was reflected in their own beliefs about how young children do science. These findings can help researchers and practitioners develop professional development to support the informal science education community to build capacity towards deepening young visitors’ engagement with science as an evidence-based enterprise.
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This study investigates kindergarten children’s understanding of science concepts when experiencing science through play versus direct instruction. Teaching science through play not only includes children’s active participation in several hands-on activities related to a concept or a phenomenon, but also includes children’s participation in variations of the same activity to explore different aspects of the concept/phenomena. Among the science concepts suggested by the Turkish National Preschool Education Program, the following science concepts were selected to teach in kindergarten classrooms: colors, living/non-living things, gravity, magnets, existence of air and air related phenomena, floating and sinking, and the phases of water. The research study was conducted in two classrooms of a public kindergarten using a quasiexperimental pre-test/post-test design. The data collection tools were semistructured interviews, coded for understanding according to a rubric. The result of the study indicated that children taught science through play had greater understanding of science concepts than children taught science through direct instruction. The findings suggest that teaching science through playful experiences is an important approach to promote kindergarten students’ developing understanding of science concepts.
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Although much has been written about improving primary school science and scientific skills for children, not a lot has been done to find out what science actually looks like for very young children. A common belief among adults is that science concept learning is something to be addressed in the later years of schooling. Thus, early childhood educators tend not to emphasise science teaching and learning. Science, however, is a discipline upon which all curriculum learning can begin as young children are innately curious about their surroundings. As a means of viewing emergent science in three different early learning centres, individual children have been observed to develop case studies about their experiences of scientific discovery. These case studies highlight different interpretations of science teaching and learning: children satisfying their own curiosity, the use of guided play to develop scientific process skills and the recognition that even with the best intentions, opportunities to develop scientific skills can be easily lost. Pedagogical implications of this research highlight a need for early childhood educators to provide dedicated unstructured play time, resources and adequate space to enhance logical thinking and science learning in early learning centres. The role of a significant adult to assist conceptual understanding and guide a child’s scientific learning is pivotal. This role should acknowledge an awareness of the everyday nature of science and the potential of every child to be a scientist.
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For many years, formal school science education has been criticised by students, teachers, parents and employers throughout the world. This article presents an argument that a greater collaboration between the formal and the informal sector could address some of these criticisms. The causes for concern about formal science education are summarised and the major approaches being taken to address them are outlined. The contributions that the informal sector currently makes to science education are identified. It is suggested that the provision of an effective science education entails an enhanced complementarity between the two sectors. Finally, there is a brief discussion of the collaboration and communication still needed if this is to be effective.
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In this article, the authors examined whether there were different motivational profiles within a sample of kindergarteners (N = 110) learning science. The authors identified 3 profiles involving children's perceived competence in, liking, and ease of learning science by using cluster analysis. High motivational beliefs characterized the largest profile. Low competence but high liking characterized a smaller group, and another group reported low liking with moderate competence. These profiles did not differ by gender, race, early academic achievement, or classroom. However, children with the low-competence and high-liking profile reported less teacher support for learning than did children with high motivational beliefs. Exploratory analysis also indicated that the nature and frequency of observed teacher-child interactions differed by motivational profile.
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Science communication is a growing area of practice and research. During the past two decades, the number of activities, courses, and practitioners has steadily increased. But what actually is science communication? In what ways is it different to public awareness of science, public understanding of science, scientific culture, and scientific literacy? The authors review the literature to draw together a comprehensive set of definitions for these related terms. A unifying structure is presented and a contemporary definition of science communication positioned within this framework. Science communication (SciCom) is defined as the use of appropriate skills, media, activities, and dialogue to produce one or more of the following personal responses to science (the AEIOU vowel analogy): Awareness, Enjoyment, Interest, Opinion-forming, and Understanding. The definition provides an outcomes-type view of science communication, and provides the foundations for further research and evaluation.
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This study examines the ways in which preschool teachers support the development of children's explanatory language through science inquiry. Two classrooms in a preschool center using a science inquiry curriculum were videotaped during a 5-week unit on color mixing. Videotapes were analyzed for how teachers facilitated children's explanatory language. An assessment of explanatory language was administered to 47 children in the center before and after the color mixing unit. Analysis of discourse revealed that teachers engaged children as conversational partners and as scientific investigators responsible for their own learning. Explanations were dynamically co-constructed by adults and children within the context of participation in scientific inquiry. By the end of the unit, children produced more on-topic responses, more standard color-mixing terms, and more causal connectives in their responses to the assessment of explanatory language.
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Current accounts of the development of scientific reasoning focus on individual children's ability to coordinate the collection and evaluation of evidence with the creation of theories to explain the evidence. This observational study of parent–child interactions in a children's museum demonstrated that parents shape and support children's scientific thinking in everyday, nonobligatory activity. When children engaged an exhibit with parents, their exploration of evidence was observed to be longer, broader, and more focused on relevant comparisons than children who engaged the exhibit without their parents. Parents were observed to talk to children about how to select and encode appropriate evidence and how to make direct comparisons between the most informative kinds of evidence. Parents also sometimes assumed the role of explainer by casting children's experience in causal terms, connecting the experience to prior knowledge, or introducing abstract principles. We discuss these findings with respect to two dimensions of children's scientific thinking: developments in evidence collection and developments in theory construction. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Sci Ed85:712–732, 2001.
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This essay considers the question of why we should teach science to K-2. After initial consideration of two traditional reasons for studying science, six assertions supporting the idea that even small children should be exposed to science are given. These are, in order: (1) Children naturally enjoy observing and thinking about nature. (2) Exposing students to science develops positive attitudes towards science. (3) Early exposure to scientific phenomena leads to better understanding of the scientific concepts studied later in a formal way. (4) The use of scientifically informed language at an early age influences the eventual development of scientific concepts. (5) Children can understand scientific concepts and reason scientifically. (6) Science is an efficient means for developing scientific thinking. Concrete illustrations of some of the ideas discussed in this essay, particularly, how language and prior knowledge may influence the development of scientific concepts, are then provided. The essay concludes by emphasizing that there is a window of opportunity that educators should exploit by presenting science as part of the curriculum in both kindergarten and the first years of primary school.
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There is a growing commitment within science centres and museums to deploy computer-based exhibits to enhance participation and engage visitors with socio-scientific issues. As yet however, we have little understanding of the interaction and communication that arises with and around these forms of exhibits, and the extent to which they do indeed facilitate engagement. In this paper, we examine the use of novel computer-based exhibits to explore how people, both alone and with others, interact with and around the installations. The data are drawn from video-based field studies of the conduct and communication of visitors to the Energy Gallery at London’s Science Museum. The paper explores how visitors transform their activity with and around computer-based exhibits into performances, and how such performances create shared experiences. It reveals how these performances can attract other people to become an audience to an individual’s use of the system and subsequently sustain their engagement with both the performance and the exhibit. The observations and findings of the study are used to reflect upon the extent to which the design of exhibits enables particular forms of co-participation or shared experiences, and to develop design sensitivities that exhibition managers and designers may consider when wishing to engender novel ways of engagement and participation with and around computer-based exhibits.
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This article examines the level of empowerment and autonomy children can create in their play experiences. It examines the play discourses that children build and maintain and considers the importance of play contexts in supporting children's emotional and social development. These aspects of play are often unseen or misunderstood by the adult observer. The article emphasises the importance of adult-free play, enabling children to experience a sense of power in their play and explore their awareness of personal and social relationships. It analyses the influence the adult can have on children's play spaces, by bringing an 'adult agenda' to the play situation, and how this may ultimately disempower children.
Rev.& expanded from Case study research in education,1988.Incl.bibliographical references,index
The study of play has a longer history than the study of psychology itself, but the ideas about the phenomenon have shown remarkable changes according to the prevailing climate and conditions.
Objectives At the end of this chapter you will: Recognise the potential for science with 3 and 4-year-old children. Recognise the place of everyday science in free and guided play for 3 and 4-year-old children. Describe various pedagogical principles to enhance the science teaching and learning of 3 and 4-year-old children through free and guided play. Relate children’s science experiences to the fi ve outcomes of the EYLF. Overview Within Australia there have been progressive moves for young children to be placed in school contexts, resulting in some 3 and 4-year-old children being placed in ‘formal’ education. As a result, early childhood educators are being challenged as to why, what and how they should teach science. Through two case studies, this chapter explores pedagogical practices associated with the teaching and learning of science in young children, using play as a medium, and relates the findings to the five outcomes of the EYLF (DEEWR, 2009). Young children's learning and the potential for science understanding Young children are naturally inquisitive. They are active and social learners with an innate curiosity and wonder of the world, which makes them ideal scientists. Children have questions to ask, problems to solve, conversations to share, and social and playful situations to use in their learning (Greenman, 2007). They also have developing concentration and attention spans, an egocentric nature, an awareness of taking turns, an interest in exploring relationships and a vocabulary that is expanding while they are continuing to develop fine and gross motor skills (Kearns & Austin, 2010).
Objectives At the end of this section, you will be able to: recognise a range of teaching approaches demonstrate the need to scaffold a child's explorations and how this can be achieved be able to use effective questioning for focusing and enhancing children's learning be able to describe ways that educators can enhance learning through targeted exploration recognise the skills, processes and knowledges that can be acquired by very young children. Overview This chapter links theory with practice by discussing the range of teaching approaches that can be used with young children to enhance their learning. It discusses the interactivity of the approach the educator uses with the child and the settings. Whether it is through the processes of science, such as the development of observation, or through the skilful questioning of the educator, the approach used should enhance children's learning. From theory to practice Considering the range of learning theories presented in the earlier chapters of this book, how does a practitioner make sense of the multitude of theoretical perspectives available and translate these into a practice that aids children's learning? One way is to consider the strong messages coming from all theories: children construct their own understanding, learning is enhanced through social interaction and the practitioner is pivotal to children's learning.
Little change has been noted over 10 years of research into teacher knowledge and confidence to teach science in the early and primary years of schooling. There is a significant body of research demonstrating that early childhood and primary teachers lack confidence and competence in teaching science. However, much of this research blames the victim, and offers little analysis for the systemic reasons for teachers’ confidence and competence in science education other than a lack of science knowledge. This paper reports on a study that examined teacher philosophy and pedagogical practices within the context of an analysis of children’s concept formation within playful early childhood settings. Through teacher interviews, video recordings of science play, and photographic documentation of children’s science activities in one rural preschool, it was noted that teacher philosophy about how young children learn is a significant contributing factor to learning in science. It is argued that teacher philosophy makes more of a difference to children’s scientific learning than does teacher confidence to teach science or knowledge of science. The study also shows that without a mediational scientific framework for using materials in play‐based contexts, children will generate their own imaginary, often non‐scientific, narratives for making sense of the materials provided.
This article reports an investigation into the use of 12 Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Interactive Science Exhibits, borrowed by two community venues—a regional Hall of Fame and a metropolitan Library—as part of a science center's outreach program. Data were generated through interviews with venue staff, interviews with adults and surveys of children who visited the exhibits, and observations of visitor behavior around the exhibits. All children and most adults enjoyed using the exhibits, and adults thought the exhibits would raise people's (particularly children's) awareness of science and teach scientific ideas. Venue staff were pleased with the outcomes of the exhibit loan; however, the potential educational effectiveness of the exhibits was limited by issues relating to location and the visitors’ agendas. There were problems in attracting people to the exhibits and encouraging visitors, particularly adults, to engage with them. Suggestions are made to increase the effectiveness of using interactive exhibits in community settings.
The question, "What constitutes a reasonable, useful agenda for research into science learning in out-of-school, free-choice environments?" has surfaced with increasing frequency over the past 10 years or so. One event that helped move the agenda forward was the National Science Foundation-funded conference, "Public Institutions for Personal Learning: Understanding the Long-term Impact of Museums," held in Annapolis in 1994. The proceedings of this conference, published by the American Association of Museums (Falk & Dierking, 1995), reflected a large step forward in setting out the research issues and questions involved. Although focused on museums (a generic term including all kinds of museums, botanical gardens, aquaria, zoos, and science and other interpretative centers), the issues discussed are applicable to a wide range of non-museum contexts. The Annapolis conference was conceived as a forum for frontline researchers in a variety of fields representing the physical, social, and personal dimensions of learning. The goal was to discuss how the thinking and modalities of their disciplines might shed insights into the nature of learning and be used to define and lay out a long-term research agenda in museums. At about the same time, a small group of science museum practitioners held several meetings under the auspices of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) and the Institute of Museum Studies (IMS) to start thinking about a research agenda in their area of expertise. The results of the think tank meetings were published in six successive ASTC newsletters during 1996 (and are now available at http://www.astc.org/resource/educator/educmain.htm#theories).
How can museums encourage active family learning? Four Philadelphia area science institutions—The Franklin Institute Science Museum, the New Jersey State Aquarium, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Philadelphia Zoo—have investigated the answer to this question as part of the PISEC (Philadelphia-Camden Informal Science Education Collaborative) Family Learning Project. PISEC is conducting research and exhibit development aimed at increasing understanding of family learning in science museums and identifying the characteristics of successful family learning exhibits. The PISEC project has three phases, two of which have been completed: (1) a research study to establish behavioral indicators for family learning; (2) the development and evaluation of four exhibit enhancements aimed at achieving family learning goals; (3) a research study of the impact of the four enhanced exhibits. This article will describe the results of formative evaluation conducted during Phase 2 of the project. “Family learning components,” or exhibit enhancements, designed to help adults and children learn together, were developed, field-tested, revised, and installed at each of the four museums. PISEC has identified seven characteristics of successful family learning exhibits: multi-sided, multi-user, accessible, multi-outcome, multi-modal, readable, and relevant. The four PISEC family learning components, embodying these characteristics, appear to have increased active family learning.
Learning through play. For babies, toddlers and young children
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Objects and learning: Understanding young children's interaction with science exhibits
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