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Enhancing Informal Stem Learning Through Family Engagement in Cooking

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Abstract

Informal learning has the potential to play an important role in helping children develop a life-long interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). The goal of this review is to synthesize the evidence regarding the features of effective informal learning, provide effective ways to support learning within these contexts, and illustrate that cooking is an optimal opportunity for informal STEM learning. We review evidence demonstrating that the most effective informal learning activities are authentic, social and collaborative experiences that tap into culturally-relevant practices and knowledge, although there are limitations to each. We propose that cooking provides a context for authentic, culturally-relevant learning opportunities and includes natural supports for learning and engagement. Specifically, cooking provides many opportunities to apply STEM content (e.g., measuring and chemical reactions) to an existing foundation of knowledge about food. Cooking is also a family-based learning opportunity that exists across cultures, allows for in-home mentoring, and requires no specialized materials (beyond those available in most homes). It may help overcome some limitations in informal STEM learning, namely scalability. Finally, cooking provides immediate, tangible (and edible) results, promoting interest and supporting long-term engagement.
Enhancing Informal Stem Learning Through Family
Engagement in Cooking
Bradley J. Morris
*
Kent State University
bmorri20@kent.edu
Shannon R. Zentall
Independent Scholar
Grace Murray
Kent State University
Whitney Owens
Cincinnati Museum Center
Published 7 July 2021
Informal learning has the potential to play an important role in helping children develop a life-long
interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). The goal of this review is to
synthesize the evidence regarding the features of e®ective informal learning, provide e®ective ways to
support learning within these contexts, and illustrate that cooking is an optimal opportunity for
informal STEM learning. We review evidence demonstrating that the most e®ective informal learning
activities are authentic, social and collaborative experiences that tap into culturally-relevant practices
and knowledge, although there are limitations to each. We propose that cooking provides a context
for authentic, culturally-relevant learning opportunities and includes natural supports for learning
and engagement. Speci¯cally, cooking provides many opportunities to apply STEM content (e.g.,
measuring and chemical reactions) to an existing foundation of knowledge about food. Cooking is also
a family-based learning opportunity that exists across cultures, allows for in-home mentoring, and
requires no specialized materials (beyond those available in most homes). It may help overcome some
limitations in informal STEM learning, namely scalability. Finally, cooking provides immediate,
tangible (and edible) results, promoting interest and supporting long-term engagement.
Keywords: Informal learning; science of cooking; authentic learning activities; STEM learning;
lived experience.
1. Enhancing Informal STEM Learning
Through Family Engagement in
Cooking
STEM education provides considerable direct and
indirect bene¯ts for societies. STEM-educated workers
provide economic bene¯ts by generating technology
and other durable goods, patents, and employment
from manufactured goods these bene¯ts are partic-
ularly acute for developing nations [2]. STEM edu-
cation also creates indirect bene¯ts by strengthening
*
Corresponding author
Proceedings of the Singapore National Academy of Science, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2021) 119133
©World Scienti¯c Publishing Company
DOI: 10.1142/S2591722621400111
119
support for science research, economic opportunities
across a wide segment of the workforce, and more
informed individual and public health decisions [1].
Informal STEM learning can span a wide variety of
possible activities but which ones o®er the most
promise for accessible and engaging participation?
This paper reviews evidence that family cooking
provides a valuable context for informal STEM
learning, o®ering opportunities for authentic, social
and collaborative experiences that tap into cultur-
ally relevant practices and knowledge.
1.1. Leveraging authentic STEM
experiences for children
Children and adults are naturally curious about the
world around them. The drive to learn about our
environment, seek information, and generate
explanations that provide understanding form the
basis of scienti¯c curiosity [3,4]. Curiosity is both a
threshold for information seeking, [3] and a strong
driver of engagement, which is a signi¯cant con-
tributor to learning, [5] particularly learning about
science [6]. Once engaged, the learner can seek in-
formation to ¯ll gaps in their knowledge, even
without explicit awareness of the gaps [7]. Because
of this drive, children engage in STEM learning well
before they begin formal education.
Learning about the world takes place in a variety
of settings (e.g., homes, museums) and takes place
within multiple social contexts such as families,
friends, and formalized learning relationships (e.g.,
teacher-student). Considerable attention has been
paid to learning science within formal contexts such
as schools; however, children spend most of their
time outside of formal settings [8]. Children may be
more motivated to engage and learn through infor-
mal experiences driven by their own interests [9]. In
the US, student interest in science tends to decrease
during school years, with steeper declines in interest
during middle school; girls experience steeper
declines than boys [10,11]. One possible interven-
tion for countering this decline is to provide oppor-
tunities for students to learn STEM content
informally, by focusing on the learner's interests. To
that end, we suggest that cooking can provide
learners with interesting, STEM-relevant experi-
ences that promote the acquisition of culturally-
relevant knowledge as well as authentic life skills.
1.2. Informal STEM learning
Informal STEM learning (here after ISL) is driven
by the interests of the learner, is often collaborative,
and lacks formal test-based assessments [12]. This
contrasts with traditional, formal science learning in
school classrooms that is compulsory, driven by
external standards at the state or national level, and
formally assessed through grades and standardized
tests. Because ISL is learner-driven, curiosity plays a
strong role in the topics, frequency, and conditions
for learning [13].
For these reasons, supporting and promoting
science learning outside of formal settings has the
potential to augment learning [13] by helping chil-
dren develop a life-long interest in STEM. STEM
learning is an iterative process of acquiring the
practices and knowledge of science. [14] That is,
learners acquire information by applying scienti¯c
methods and principles (e.g., Newton's Laws) and
de¯ning and testing hypotheses (e.g., designing un-
confounded experiments). In this paper we discuss
bene¯ts of ISL as well as some potential limita-
tions, particularly scalability then discuss how
cooking, baking, and food science (hereafter, cook-
ing) is a culturally relevant, potentially scalable, and
e®ective context in which families can engage in ISL.
1.3. Why is cooking a rich context for
informal science learning?
As a context, cooking can help democratize access to
high-quality STEM engagement: activities are au-
thentic, social-collaborative, derived from culturally
relevant practices, and present in most homes as an
essential practice. As a STEM activity, cooking can
create strong ISL bene¯ts and as an everyday ac-
tivity, it has signi¯cant potential to scale to many
di®erent kinds of families. We use the term potential
because presenting information to a learner does
not, on its own, result in learning but creates
potential learning situations. Potential learning is
analogous to the concept of potential energy in that
both describe situations in which qualities can be
realized in a future state [15]. As we will detail
below, providing simple supports could go a long
way toward embedding STEM learning within
cooking and o®ers productive avenues for future
research, building on a few initial investigations [16]
in an under-researched area.
120 B. J. Morris et al.
1.4. STEM components of cooking
Cooking's natural links to science (e.g., chemistry of
baking, biology of plants) and mathematics (e.g.,
measurement, fractions) make it a context ripe with
potential learning opportunities. Take popcorn, for
example, which educators and caregivers can use to
demonstrate multiple physics concepts. For popcorn
to \pop", the small amount of moisture within the
kernel heats to a su±cient temperature (optimally
around 180C), which turns the moisture to steam,
exploding the kernel and illustrating concepts such
as the properties of matter [17]. Learners can also
investigate optimal conditions: for instance, popcorn
pops best when there is approximately 1314%
moisture, an intact kernel, and a moderate, steady
application of heat [17]. Similarly, frying an egg
provides an excellent opportunity to explore chem-
istry. The globular proteins that make up an un-
cooked egg are unconnected to other proteins within
the liquid of the yolk. When heat is applied, it agi-
tates these proteins until they come into contact
with each other, forming bonds. The longer the heat
is applied, the stronger the bonds, which explains
why overcooked eggs have a \blubber-like" texture
[18]. Yet another example is exploring how cooking
is related to cultivating ingredients (botany). For
example, chocolate comes from the cacao bean,
which is strongly in°uenced by other plants (e.g.,
co®ee), growing near it [19]. Tasting chocolate from
di®erent locations allows the identi¯cation of °avors
from those neighboring plants. These are just a few
of many possible cooking connections to science. In
addition, there are links to many other science ¯elds
such as ecology (How is a tomato grown?), climate
(Where do peas grow best?), distribution and
logistics (How does a strawberry get to my grocer?),
and engineering (How does hydroponics work? [20].
For these reasons, cooking constitutes an island of
expertise, or a rich context for learning STEM
through informal experience [21].
1.5. Lenses to investigating and creating
informal STEM opportunities
ISL has a sizable literature base; a single theoretical
framework to guide investigations does not exist,
however. Rather, ISL has traditionally been inves-
tigated through two primary lenses: the cognitive
developmental approach and the sociocultural
approach. The cognitive developmental approach
focuses on the underlying processes of learning and
development [22]. Researchers might focus on the
operation of cognitive mechanisms, such as encoding
information in memory, within individual chil-
dren and how they sca®old the construction of
scienti¯c reasoning [23]. For example, prompting
caregivers to ask their children questions about
their experiences in science museums helps
improve children's encoding and retention of these
experiences [24].
The sociocultural theories of learning suggest
learning and development are the result of a child
co-constructing their knowledge with people in their
social contexts [25]. Speci¯cally, culture creates
impressions on people through their participation in
cultural practices, not through the possession of
traits shared by a community [26]. Investigating the
everyday, lived experiences of children and families
is a promising way to deepen our understanding of
such practices. Thus, the sociocultural theories of
learning discussed here refer to a body of cultural
knowledge and social practices that shape how
learning occurs among individuals.
Although these lenses have operated largely in-
dependently, recent work has begun to integrate the
two. For example, a large-scale, museum-based
program provided ISL activities that focused on
learning mechanisms within culturally relevant
traditions [22]. Speci¯cally, the intervention sup-
ported individual exploration of gears to promote
exploration within the social context of family en-
gagement and conversation. Another intervention
prompted caregivers to ask questions that helped
their children remember events in the activity,
which promotes a focus on improving encoding and
retrieval cues by enhancing social supports [27]. The
synthesis of these theoretical perspectives suggests
that intrapersonal mechanisms (i.e., encoding) of
learning, engagement, and motivation operate
within interpersonal (i.e., social, cultural, and his-
torical) contexts [28]. This review will attempt to
synthesize research from these perspectives to
identify the qualities of e®ective learning contexts.
1.6. Characteristics of quality ISL
opportunities
What makes an informal learning opportunity
e®ective? In the following sections, we provide evi-
dence that e®ective ISL opportunities are authentic,
social and collaborative experiences that tap into
culturally relevant practices and knowledge.
Enhancing Informal Stem Learning Through Family Engagement in Cooking 121
1.7. Authentic learning opportunities
Authentic activities must be driven at least in part
by student interests, must be at least somewhat
open-ended, and must be relevant to students' lives
and experiences [29]. One of the criticisms of formal
(i.e., school-based) science instruction is that stu-
dents are often presented with \inauthentic" activ-
ities in which students are asked to \solve" problems
with well-known answers [30,31]. Authentic activi-
ties provide a more potent opportunity for learning
because they present challenging components that
motivate children to engage in learning [29]. For
instance, geometry is a subject that is traditionally
taught using abstract examples, which are di±cult
for novice learners to understand [32]. A recent
study demonstrated that embedding geometry
instruction in authentic activities (e.g., measuring
the area of a triangle that is a building ramp) was
associated with better learning outcomes than the
same instruction using only decontextualized
examples [33]. Similarly, learners who were given
authentic activities for learning about the physics of
inclined planes demonstrated greater learning gains
than those using more traditional materials [34].
This evidence suggests strong links between au-
thentic activities and participant learning.
1.8. Limitations of authentic learning
opportunities
Although authentic activities do show bene¯ts for
learning, they are not a panacea. One potential lim-
itation is that the large problem space for authentic
activities in other words, all possible options during
problem solving can be overwhelming for novice
learners [35]. For example, imagine asking a young
child who has never cooked to make pancakes from
scratch: even getting started requires some knowl-
edge of the tasks' sequence of events (e.g., locating a
recipe, collecting ingredients). Even with a recipe, the
child may struggle and/or lack relevant knowledge,
such as the right temperature to heat a pan before
cooking, or cooking time before °ipping a pancake.
Another limitation is that the order in which ingre-
dients are added sometimes makes a di®erence. For
example, combining baking soda and buttermilk
makes °u±er pancakes because their reaction relea-
ses carbon dioxide bubbles. If the batter is left to sit,
however, these bubbles will release before cooking,
leading to °atter pancakes.
One way to help de¯ne the problem space is to
provide direct instruction that helps learners gain
enough background knowledge to use e®ective so-
lution techniques [36] and avoid being overwhelmed
by complexity [37]. When learners explore authentic
activities without guidance or feedback, they are
more likely to fail to learn, draw erroneous conclu-
sions, or a±rm their misconceptions [35]. Further, a
meta-analysis demonstrates that students with
minimal guidance are less likely to have learned
content, and in some cases, show declines in learning
over the course of activities [38].
It is possible that allowing learners to make
decisions about their own learning will lead to sub-
optimal outcomes [39]. Returning to our example,
our novice pancake maker might decide that they
can substitute ingredients, perhaps using milk in-
stead of buttermilk. An experienced cook would
recognize that the acid in buttermilk reacts with
baking soda to release carbon dioxide in the batter,
make \°u®y" pancakes, and attenuate the bitter
taste of baking soda. This choice is based on prior
knowledge, which limits the set of possible options
the learner might choose [40]. Limited prior knowl-
edge often leads to con¯rming existing biases
and rehearsing familiar approaches to solving
problems, rather than evaluating and adapting [41].
For these reasons, e®ective guidance within au-
thentic problems is necessary to provide support for
learners.
1.9. Supports for authentic
opportunities
. One approach to support learning in authentic
contexts is \tell then practice" [42]. Telling, or
providing some direct instruction, can be highly ef-
fective, particularly when it helps students learn
methods for constructing their own knowledge (e.g.,
conducting unconfounded experiments; [43]. Un-
guided exploration (i.e., pure discovery learning)
may increase subsequent exploration and engage-
ment [44] but has not provided evidence for im-
proving learning, [35] creating opportunities for
misconceptions to form and suggesting that some
direct instruction supports learning. Returning to
our example, telling a child the order in which to
mix ingredients when making pancakes will de¯ne
the problem space and increase their knowledge
about the process. Explanations help learners un-
derstand why these steps lead to better outcomes
122 B. J. Morris et al.
(e.g., overmixing the batter traps the CO
2
, leading
to °at pancakes).
A second approach is to provide some initial ex-
ploration and then direct instruction, questions, or
discussion [42]. In this approach, learners are given
an opportunity to become familiar with the problem
itself and to acquire tacit knowledge. One method
constrains the problem space so that learners work
through an authentic-yet-simpli¯ed problem to
focus on a small amount of relevant information [45].
Another method provides di±cult problems that
learners are likely to fail before providing instruction
[46]. Productive failure has shown evidence of im-
proving learning because learners become attuned to
the relevant features of the problem and often show
increased motivation to solve the problem on which
they previously failed [48]. Allowing a learner to
make pancakes with di®erent ingredients provides
an opportunity for productive failure. For example,
a child may not want to add baking soda to the
ingredients, which will yield dense, pale pancakes. A
comparison between these and pancakes made with
baking soda sets up an opportunity to discuss why
the texture and color were di®erent.
Guided play is an instructional strategy that
combines elements exploration and direct instruc-
tion approaches into a coherent framework [48]
allowing for curiosity-driven engagement while
constraining it with learning goals through men-
torship from a more knowledgeable individual. As
such, guided play allows exploration of a problem,
collaboration in learning, and support for motiva-
tion and emotional reactions during the learning
process. Cooking as a family is a prototypical guided
play activity. Knowledgeable individuals provide
guidance for novices to learn a practical life skill that
is deeply embedded in STEM content. For example,
making lemonade is a simple recipe for a popular
drink. Although the recipe is simple, the process of
making lemonade involves the opportunity for a
mentor to help the maker learn about concepts such
as the nature of solutions (e.g., why do we heat the
water and sugar?), pH, and why we perceive tastes
as \sour".
1.10. Social-collaborative opportunities
Social interactions support learning [49,50] and can
improve learning by bolstering the conditions
under which it occurs [51]. Social interactions can
increase learning motivation by increasing interest
and engagement. For example, mutual collaboration
increased students' engagement and learning in a
university level course [50]. Social interactions can
also help students regulate their emotions while
engaged in learning opportunities [52].
During learning, social interactions may occur
among peers or mentors, including family members
and non-family mentors. Extensive research sug-
gests the presence of mentors improves learning
outcomes by providing learning opportunities
within a relationship that supports and sustains the
learner cognitively, socially, and emotionally [53]
Successful mentoring relationships share character-
istics of successful caregiving relationships in that
both include stability, nurture, responsiveness, and
clear expectations [54,55]. Mentoring relationships
help participants maintain their motivation for en-
gaging in and learning content and can help them
achieve mastery-learning by: setting goals to learn,
improve, and understand setbacks and failure as
part of this process [56] helping students monitor
their progress by setting goals and monitoring and
evaluating their progress [57] and providing feed-
back from a knowledgeable, trusted source [58].
Mentors particularly those who share char-
acteristics with the learner can foster identity, or
a learner's belief that they can succeed in their area
of interest [59,60]. Identity is particularly important
for students from underrepresented groups [61,62]
Children's identities develop, in part, through an
acknowledgement that they themselves are capable
of success, but also that a trusted other in their lives
also believes they are capable of success [63]. Finally,
mentors co-regulate emotional reactions or arousal
levels that occur during the learning process by
providing coping strategies for students (e.g., help-
ing work through frustration by ¯nding solutions)
[53]. There is a range of optimal arousal for learning
that is associated with better learning outcomes [64].
Children visiting a zoo demonstrated high levels
of physiological arousal (via a heart monitor) at
an exciting demonstration with birds of prey that
appeared to interfere with their attention [65].
Mentors can help learners regulate their arousal
levels into this optimal zone of attention.
Although the evidence presented above demon-
strates the value of social-collaborative learning,
there are potential limitations to implementing this
approach. One potential limitation is that it can be
di±cult to engage children in e®ective, collaborative
learning [66,67]. Collaborations are sometimes
Enhancing Informal Stem Learning Through Family Engagement in Cooking 123
di±cult because they are often ill-structured to
allow participants to contribute equitably and
equitable participation leads to the most e®ective
outcomes [68,69,70,71].
Cultural di®erences in collaboration also exist,
meaning the type of collaboration in one interven-
tion may not bene¯t all children. For example, In-
digenous North American children collaborate more
e®ectively than children of European decent [72].
Speci¯cally, children of European decent collaborate
by assigning roles and dividing work, rather than by
collaborative turn-taking and goal-setting, suggest-
ing a need for possible training intervention. In fact,
in many cultures, children see their role as partici-
pating in family work and chores [73]. This may
suggest that family learning may be particularly
e®ective, especially when such activities align with
cultural practices [74].
1.11. Supports for social-collaborative
learning
Cooking is a common and optimal context for social
and collaborative activity [75]. Meal preparation
presents a large goal e.g. a multi-dish meal with
many subgoals each step to prepare each dish
and is thus ideal for social collaboration. To explore
this opportunity, we will ¯rst discuss general cook-
ing learning, then STEM-focused learning.
The mere presence of a caregiver during an in-
formal activity increases the duration of and quality
of engagement with the activity beyond that of a
child on their own [76]. Conversations between
caregivers and children do not need to provide ex-
haustive or even accurate explanations to provide
bene¯ts for children. In fact, many explanations
that caregivers provide during such activities are
incorrect, yet still may be bene¯cial [77]. Caregivers
can help children set goals within activities that
guide their subsequent information-seeking [48,78].
For example, caregivers can ask questions about
how or why something occurs (i.e., why oil and
vinegar separate in the salad dressing bottle), sug-
gesting goals for investigation [79]. Conversations
with children can help guide children to important
features of problems and suggest possible explana-
tions [80]. In addition, conversations provide cues
for children that help them remember the problem
and experience more e®ectively [81]. The process of
generating an explanation, even an explanation that
is incorrect, can bene¯t learners because the process
of generating an explanation activates relevant in-
formation and prompts an evaluation of coherence
[82]. Finally, lacking knowledge of a phenomenon
can provide an opportunity for the type of infor-
mation-seeking that is common in the practice of
authentic scienti¯c investigation. Just as scientists
seek information about unknown phenomena, chil-
dren are curious about problems without answers.
Not knowing an answer sets up an opportunity for
information seeking. Depending on the setting in
which ISL occurs, caregivers may model information
seeking.
Caregivers with greater STEM knowledge help
children explore STEM activities more e®ectively
and ask better questions; they provide better sup-
port for STEM learning than caregivers with less
STEM knowledge [83,84,85]. For example, those
who held advanced degrees in science reported that
family-based experiences and attitudes played a
signi¯cant role in their interest, engagement, and
attitudes about science [84]. This ¯nding highlights
an issue with ISL, which is that ISL disproportion-
ately bene¯ts those with greater resources, including
greater ¯nancial and educational access and °exible
work schedules [86]. The results from a large survey
of families in the UK demonstrate that although
most families would participate in ISL opportunities
available to all, they perceive many ISL opportunities
as requiring specialized knowledge or resources,
making them only accessible to the most privileged
[86]. While both of these facets advanced STEM
knowledge and access to resources pose challenges
to STEM-based collaborative learning, cooking pre-
sents an opportunity to address them, as we will
discuss herein.
1.12. Culturally relevant opportunities
Cultural relevance refers to meeting students where
they are by making learning pertinent to their lived
experiences and cultural knowledge, rather than
making assumptions about students' knowledge and
values [87]. One example of culturally relevant
learning is by connecting learning with familial and
cultural sources of knowledge, known as their funds
of knowledge [88]. Funds of knowledge provide sub-
tle supports that augment learning, such as drawing
on culturally-relevant examples, [89] conversational
styles, [90] and vocabulary [91] that connect new
information to a learner's background knowledge.
Evidence from decades of research demonstrates the
124 B. J. Morris et al.
importance of relevance for e®ective learning and
motivation: it gives students a stake in what is being
taught[92,93,94].
According to sociocultural theories of learning,
children co-construct their knowledge in collabora-
tion with people around them [25]. There are cul-
tural di®erences in how caregivers teach their
children: for example, Maya children often learn by
observation and imitation, engaging in participatory
learning driven by their natural interests [26,95,96].
US children, on the other hand, tend to receive
child-directed teaching from caregivers [95]. Chil-
dren who are accustomed to collaborative learning
experiences may be more likely to learn and be en-
gaged in such contexts. Although the language of
science becomes highly standardized, links between
everyday concepts and prior knowledge are shaped
by the vocabulary children bring to learning contexts
[97]. For example, when Mexican-American families
make tortillas in the family home, one step in the pro-
cess is the creation of small, dome-shaped balls of dough
called testales, a term that does not have an exact,
English equivalent [91]. ISL approaches that connect
with learners' funds of knowledge by linking to cul-
turally relevant knowledge, conversation, teaching,
and vocabulary are more likely to be relevant, sus-
tainable, and ultimately successful. And the presence
of a diverse group of learners increases the richness of
STEM experiences for all participants [98].
1.13. Notes on cultural approaches
While the evidence above demonstrates the value of
culturally relevant learning opportunities, it's im-
portant to note some caveats in their creation. If
those who develop activities do not know the culture
in which they will be implemented, those activities
arelesslikelytobee®ective[99]. One must know a
culture to align activities with that culture's funds of
knowledge [88] and create successful learning oppor-
tunities [87,89]. Accordingly, learning facilitators
should also beware of using materials particularly
assessments that are assumed to be universal, since
they are rarely free of cultural bias and may compli-
cate learning evaluation [100].
1.14. Cooking supports the bene¯ts of
ISL
Cooking is a truly authentic learning opportunity
that one can do independently or with others, with
clear links to both cognitive and sociocultural
aspects of ISL. It provides repeated learning
opportunities woven, by necessity, into daily life; as
humans who must eat, we all have some background
knowledge about food and cooking. This circum-
stance makes cooking a promising activity to pro-
mote engagement in family homes, accessing both
caregivers' background knowledge and children's
familiarity with food. Cooking can become an ex-
ample of guided play for families, in which caregivers
are STEM mentors who guide children's experi-
mentation using their knowledge and skill. For ex-
ample: in a naturalistic observation of caregivers
and children baking cookies, caregivers demon-
strated their unique ability to sca®old learning.
Speci¯cally, caregivers helped children monitor their
actions and were less likely to provide supervision
when children showed greater skill [101].
Importantly, cooking, more than most other ISL
activities, is a cultural and intergenerational prac-
tice frequently shared within families [102]. It occurs
in every culture [103] and is even an important way
to transmit cultures between generations. While the
types of tools, techniques, and ingredients vary
across cultures, cooking is nearly universal in its
centrality to family and social life [102,103]. In
many cultures, cooking is intimately linked to the
transmission of cultural knowledge about science.
For example, the people of Cuyin Manzano,
Argentina, use cooking as the primary means
through which they share botanical knowledge
across generations [104]. This knowledge transmis-
sion occurs through conversations during cooking
that focus on ingredients and their histories.
Cooking is also an exemplar of guided participa-
tion, in which children learn culturally relevant
knowledge by participating in everyday activities
with their caregivers [105]. During guided partici-
pation, information is not merely transmitted but is
co-constructed through the process of engaging in
culturally relevant activities [105]. Because there is
not just one way to share and learn information,
guided participation can include all the approaches
described above, including direct instruction, pro-
ductive failure, and guided play.
Finally, cooking activities are inherently struc-
tured; there is an explicit goal, a natural start, and
an end, and typically a speci¯c set of instructions
(i.e., recipe) that guide you to reach the goal. Recall
that setting goals helps learners allocate their
limited processing resources more e±ciently and
Enhancing Informal Stem Learning Through Family Engagement in Cooking 125
achieve more [57]. Goal-setting is also one of the
foundations of self-regulated learning because a goal
is necessary for planning actions, monitoring prog-
ress, and evaluating one's success [106]. Because
goals are inherent in the action itself, cooking can
provide an opportunity for children to learn self-
regulated behavior in an everyday context in which
trusted caregivers can help them learn and evaluate
their progress. In sum, cooking fully encompasses
the bene¯ts of ISL and provides a rich and promising
context in which to study learning a context that
may address limitations that other ISL activities
face.
1.15. Cooking addresses ISL
limitations
Earlier, we explored the limitations of some ISL
activities including scalability, authenticity, and
cultural relevance. As a context for ISL, cooking
overcomes these challenges. It is scalable because it
already takes place in most family homes in some
way, is a critical and embedded daily activity, and
may not require additional equipment. It is au-
thentic in that it produces a tangible result with the
potential to fail: cooks can produce °at pancakes,
rubbery eggs, or burned tortillas. And as we've
shown, cooking is also culturally relevant, o®ering
natural links to learners' cultural backgrounds
and accessing caregivers' knowledge and lived
experience [74].
Two other common limitations of ISL are interest
and time. Studies show that cooking appears to pass
the interest test, viewed positively not only by
children but also by older family members [107].
Children often have positive views of cooking and
food preparation, and these views are more positive
when children are part of cooking with family
members [102]. Time may be the one common ISL
constraint that cooking is unable to overcome but
it at least has the advantage of being a necessary
daily activity, providing ample opportunities for
STEM engagement through simple, time-e±cient
supports we explore.
1.16. How to add STEM seasoning to
cooking experiences
Having a caregiver who is a chemist, physicist,
or biologist would certainly help children learn
about science through cooking, but (of course) such
instances are rare and, most importantly, unneces-
sary. Though caregivers can provide learning
opportunities by including children in cooking ac-
tivities [76] they can augment STEM learning while
cooking by providing guidance, as we shared above
[27,79].
Conversations are one promising way to incorpo-
rate STEM into cooking. Recall that incorrect
explanations are common during activities [77]and
that simply generating an explanation (regardless
of its accuracy) bene¯ts learners [82]. Cooking
encourages natural conversations as cooks or lear-
ners undertake series of actions that vary in length
from a few seconds (e.g., adding spices to a soup) to a
few minutes (e.g., chopping up a vegetable) to mul-
tiple days (e.g., raising dough overnight). This time
o®ers intuitive opportunities for STEM conversa-
tions: about speci¯c ingredients (e.g., is a tomato a
fruit, and why?), processes (e.g., why does toasted
bread turn brown?), and ingredient combinations
(e.g., using baking soda instead of baking powder).
Such conversations can help children generate
explanations [80] and spark curiosity about the
process of cooking and science more generally.
Beyond providing prompts and initiating con-
versations, caregivers can encourage exploration
and provide guidance through the \tinkering" pro-
cess inherent to cooking. A recipe provides step-by-
step instructions for how to achieve a goal, but ex-
perienced cooks often modify recipes through trial
and error in ways that improve them. One example
is the origin of the Toll House cookie, a popular
chocolate chip cookie [108]: Ruth Wake¯eld, owner
of the Toll House Inn, was experimenting with
cookies when she ran out of her normal ingredients.
She crumbled up a semi-sweet chocolate bar into a
sugar cookie recipe and was surprised that the
chocolate did not melt, but instead added a unique
crunch to the cookie. Families can modify recipes to
adapt foods for a gluten-free aunt, lactose-intolerant
father, or toddler who refuses to eat anything or-
ange. Experienced cooks even go beyond recipes to
create dishes from ingredients at hand, becoming a
kind of household Iron Chef. Caregivers can create
STEM learning opportunities by helping children
gain comfort and skill with tools, processes, and
ingredients, then allowing them to explore and ex-
periment. This kind of sensitive guidance providing
guidance only when needed is associated with
higher levels of child engagement [101] because it
126 B. J. Morris et al.
provides feedback that meets children where their
current knowledge gaps are.
Although there are not many published ISL ac-
tivities focused on cooking, one case study of at-risk
middle-school children in an afterschool program
does provide a relevant example. The authors found
that the program not only taught speci¯c cooking
skills (e.g., measuring), but also increased self-report
of engagement in science class in school [16]. The
authors stated that it was the connection to cooking
at home, a culturally relevant context, that helped
maintain interest in learning. The program incor-
porated direct instruction (following recipes) and
creativity (choice days, in which students could ask
and test their own questions). This example suggests
promising work to explore further.
1.17. Instantiating STEM in a cooking
activity: French toast
To illustrate our hypothesis that cooking is an ideal
ISL context, let us consider a possible project to
engage children and their families in authentic,
culturally relevant science: making French toast.
French toast is a popular dish around the world
[109] that uses few ingredients (e.g., bread, eggs, and
milk), requires few materials other than a heat
source and a pan, and demands minimal knowledge
of cooking techniques.
A bit of global background: although its exact
origins are not known, the ¯rst records of French
toast appear during the Roman Empire [109].
Today, people around the world enjoy the dish, with
versions in Algeria, India (Bombay toast), and
France (pain perdu, or lost/stale bread). Each cul-
tural recipe has its own variations and toppings as
cooks connect to family and cultural traditions:
Brazilians, for example, serve rabanadas as a tradi-
tional Christmas dessert, while Hong Kong cooks ¯ll
sāidōs
{with peanut butter or jam and serve it in tea
houses.
Cooking French toast involves a surprising
number of conversation-worthy science concepts for
such a simple recipe. A caregiver making French
toast can ask questions about ingredients, processes,
and outcomes that engage their child in observation
and hypothesizing. They might also ask \wh-ques-
tions" (Why, What, When, etc.) to engage children,
start conversations, and invite detailed responses
[24,79]. Questions that increase interest and en-
gagement could include, \Why do you think stale
bread works better than fresh bread?" (seeking ex-
planation); \When do you think it is done cooking?"
(predicting); \What do you smell/see while it is
cooking?" (noticing); and \What is di®erent about
the cooked and uncooked bread?" (comparisons).
Parents may know the answers to some of these
questions. Other questions are more open-ended,
and parents may model good information-seeking by
asking children to work with them to ¯nd answers.
Making French toast can also help cooks learn
more complex information, such as the chemistry of
ingredients. For instance, the unique, folded struc-
tures of proteins in uncooked eggs change as eggs are
heated. Making French toast involves a process of
browning known as a Maillard reaction which
occurs when heat allows sugars and amino acids to
combine, produce browning, and create unique °a-
vors and smells [110]. The Maillard reaction, which
occurs in many di®erent kinds of food, can be
transferred across multiple food types (such as toast,
steak, and co®ee).
Caregivers and teachers can add STEM reasoning
by asking questions initially, then guiding children
through observation to help them notice relevant
features (e.g., How is the egg di®erent after it has
cooked? Why do you think it is more solid?). Simply
asking questions and engaging children helps chil-
dren learn about STEM e®ectively by understand-
ing and expanding the limits of their current
knowledge. Just by working with a child, a caregiver
can increase that child's engagement [76] help them
set learning goals [77] help them note relevant
features [80] ask questions that spur curiosity [48,
79] and help them remember information [81]. Most
importantly, caregivers don't always need to
have all the answers: it is most important to help
children generate explanations, regardless of their
accuracy [82].
1.18. Bene¯ts of cooking beyond STEM
In addition to the points we have mentioned, cook-
ing is an ideal ISL context because it generates a
host of other bene¯ts to children. Cooking is a rich
context for sharing cultural practices, dietary tra-
ditions, and health information across generations
[111]. Cooking as a family has been linked to
healthier eating. A survey of over 3,000 ¯fth-grade
children found that children who participated in
family meal preparation ate more healthfully, with
more servings of fruits and vegetables, than those
Enhancing Informal Stem Learning Through Family Engagement in Cooking 127
who did not [112]. Children also were more likely to
demonstrate self-e±cacy for choosing healthier
options [113]. Similarly, in a study with 924 care-
giverchild (911 years) dyads, caregivers who
reported their children were more involved in plan-
ning, shopping for, and making meals were more
likely to have children who reported liking vege-
tables [114]. Further, children who reported liking
vegetables were more likely to eat more vegetables
at a 10-month follow-up appointment. Finally, the
more middle-school children and adolescents par-
ticipated in meal preparation, the more healthfully
they ate, consuming fewer high-fat foods, fried
foods, and carbonated beverages; just helping to
shop for meals did not demonstrate these positive
e®ects [115].
In addition to healthier eating, cooking is related
to less pickiness in children. A survey of 305 care-
givers found that children (612 years of age) who
enjoyed cooking more, were less likely to be picky
eaters and more likely to enjoy eating [116]. Exper-
imental studies support these ¯ndings. Young chil-
dren who helped prepare a meal ate more than
children who did not [117,118]. Similarly, 711-
year-old children who participated in cooking three
unfamiliar foods containing vegetables were more
likely to try those foods than the control group [119].
Even beyond the nutritional bene¯ts, adolescents
with greater self-reported cooking skills had fewer
symptoms of depression and higher levels of mental
well-being [120]. Moreover, these adolescents were
more likely to feel close to caregivers, reporting
higher levels of family connectedness.
1.19. Summary
We have suggested that cooking is a promising set-
ting for family engagement in informal STEM
learning. ISL can support and augment the natural
curiosity of children and families to understand the
world around them. E®ective ISL opportunities
meet learners where they are by providing authen-
tic, social collaboration in culturally relevant activ-
ities. Cooking is a culturally relevant, everyday life
experience for families that can support learning
about to physics (e.g., why does popcorn pop?),
chemistry (e.g., why do eggs solidify?), and mathe-
matics (e.g., how do we double 2/3 of a cup of
sugar?). Most importantly, prior knowledge of these
¯elds is unnecessary as caregivers engage children
during cooking: caregivers can be ideal STEM
mentors in this context, and family kitchens the ideal
labs. Simply asking questions, supporting children's
curiosity, and modeling information-seeking (e.g.,
let's look that up!) during family cooking can provide
signi¯cant bene¯ts for children's learning, motiva-
tion, and emerging identity that can lead to life-long
engagement with STEM. When we examine cooking
as an ideal ISL context, we believe that the proof here
is indeed in the pudding.
Acknowledgment
This material is based upon work supported by
the National Science Foundation under Grant No.
1906706. Any opinions, ¯ndings, and conclusions or
recommendations expressed in this material are
those of the authors and do not necessarily re°ect
the views of the National Science Foundation.
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... But informal learning happens in many contexts Frontiers in Psychology 02 frontiersin.org (e.g., Ridge et al., 2015;Hassinger-Das et al., 2018Gaudreau et al., 2021;Morris et al., 2021), and most critically in the home. Our goal is to examine the translation of parent-child interaction practices in hands-on museum settings to similar hands-on STEM-based activities in the home to consider whether there are corresponding learning outcomes from those interactions. ...
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We examined correlations between a home-based STEM activity illustrating the importance of soap use during handwashing and children’s (4-to 7-year-olds, N = 81, 42 girls, 39 boys) use of soap when washing their hands. Parents and children either participated in or watched the activity. Children reflected on the activity immediately afterward and a week later. Parent–child interaction during participation related to the frequency of unprompted soap use during handwashing, controlling for performance on other, related cognitive measures. Children whose parents were more goal-directed, and set goals for the interaction, were less likely to use soap spontaneously when handwashing in the subsequent week. The amount of causal knowledge children generated when they reflected on the experience immediately afterward also influenced whether children used soap when washing their hands. Reducing the autonomy children believe they have during a STEM-based activity potentially leads them to not engage in a behavior related to the activity on their own. Overall, these data suggest that parent–child interaction during STEM activities can influence the ways children encode and engage with those activities in their everyday lives. Given that the ways children wash their hands might mitigate the spread of disease, interventions that focus on providing children with the belief that STEM activities are for them might be broadly beneficial to society.
... However, studies of science at home often focus on traditional science tasks and fewer have examined families' everyday interactions. Cooking provides opportunities for parents and children to tap into their culture and existing knowledge about food and food preparation that can promote acquisition of science knowledge (e.g., measurement and chemical reactions) (Riojas-Cortez et al., 2008;Morris et al., 2021). Studies of family storytelling immediately following tinkering at a children's science museum and days later at home (e.g., Jant et al., 2014;Marcus et al., 2021) also suggest the importance of investigating the families' everyday science practices. ...
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This study examined the naturalistic conversations of 62 parent-child dyads during informal learning at an aquarium and with a subsample at home. Children (age: M = 69.8 months) with their parents were observed and audio recorded while exploring an aquarium exhibit, and a subset of dyads returned recorded home conversations reminiscing about the aquarium visit. Parent-child conversations at the aquarium were coded for child science talk and a range of parent talk variables, and parent-child conversations at home were coded for child science talk and talk about the value of the aquarium visit. Results revealed that parents tended to use more elaborative statements compared to other talk types in the aquarium. Yet, the different types of questions and statements that parents used with their children at the aquarium differentially related to their children’s science talk in the aquarium and while reminiscing at home. Findings highlight often-overlooked types of parent talk that provide meaningful ways for families to engage in science and may lead to positive child learning outcomes.
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Effective interaction and inquiry are an essential source for children's learning about science in an informal context. This study investigated the effect of parental pre-knowledge on parent-child interactions (manipulations, parent talk, and child talk) during an inquiry activity in NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam. The sample included 105 parent-child dyads (mean children's age = 10.0 years). Half of the couples were randomly assigned to the experimental group in which, without the child's knowledge, the parent was shown the task's solution prior to the inquiry activity. Results show that parental pre-knowledge affected the way parents interacted and inquired with their child. Compared to parents without pre-knowledge, parents with pre-knowledge inquired longer, posed more open-ended wh-questions and closed questions, and less often interpreted results. Children of parents with pre-knowledge more often described evidence and interpreted results, more often manipulated alone, and solved the task more accurately. These results indicate that parental pre-knowledge brings about parents' scaffolding behavior. In addition, it was studied how individual differences of parents and children relate to parent-child interaction. Results show that children's self-reported inquiry attitude was related to their conversation during inquiry, such that they asked fewer closed questions and more open-ended questions. Children's gender affected the cooperation between parent and child, parents more often manipulated together with boys than with girls, and girls more often manipulated alone. Fathers with pre-knowledge, but not mothers, let their child manipulate more by oneself than fathers without pre-knowledge. This study shows that more knowledge about an exhibit improves a parent's scaffolding behavior in a science museum. Results are discussed in the context of museum practice.
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First published in 1983, John Mariani's Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink has long been the go-to book on all things culinary. Last updated in the late 1990s, it is now back in a handsome, fully illustrated revised and expanded edition that catches readers up on more than a decade of culinary evolution and innovation: from the rise of the Food Network to the local food craze; from the DIY movement, with sausage stuffers, hard cider brewers, and pickle makers on every Brooklyn or Portland street corner; to the food truck culture that proliferates in cities across the country. Whether high or low food culture, there's no question American food has changed radically in the last fourteen years, just as the market for it has expanded exponentially. In addition to updates on food trends and other changes to American gastronomy since 1999, for the first time the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink will include biographical entries, both historical and contemporary, from Fanny Farmer and Julia Child to the Galloping Gourmet and James Beard to current high-profile players Mario Batali and Danny Meyer, among more than one hundred others. And no gastronomic encyclopedia would be complete without recipes. Mariani has included five hundred classics, from Hard Sauce to Scrapple, Baked Alaska to Blondies. An American Larousse Gastronomique, John Mariani's completely up-to-date encyclopedia will be a welcome acquisition for a new generation of food lovers.
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Young children develop causal knowledge through everyday family conversations and activities. Children's museums are an informative setting for studying the social context of causal learning because family members engage together in everyday scientific thinking as they play in museums. In this multisite collaborative project, we investigate children's developing causal thinking in the context of family interaction at museum exhibits. We focus on explaining and exploring as two fundamental collaborative processes in parent–child interaction, investigating how families explain and explore in open‐ended collaboration at gear exhibits in three children's museums in Providence, RI, San Jose, CA, and Austin, TX. Our main research questions examined (a) how open‐ended family exploration and explanation relate to one another to form a dynamic for children's learning; (b) how that dynamic differs for families using different interaction styles, and relates to contextual factors such as families' science background, and (c) how that dynamic predicts children's independent causal thinking when given more structured tasks. We summarize findings on exploring, explaining, and parent–child interaction (PCI) styles. We then present findings on how these measures related to one another, and finally how that dynamic predicts children's causal thinking. In studying children's exploring we described two types of behaviors of importance for causal thinking: (a) Systematic Exploration: Connecting gears to form a gear machine followed by spinning the gear machine. (b) Resolute Behavior: Problem‐solving behaviors, in which children attempted to connect or spin a particular set of gears, hit an obstacle, and then persisted to succeed (as opposed to moving on to another behavior). Older children engaged in both behaviors more than younger children, and the proportion of these behaviors were correlated with one another. Parents and children talked to each other while interacting with the exhibits. We coded causal language, as well as other types of utterances. Parents' causal language predicted children's causal language, independent of age. The proportion of parents' causal language also predicted the proportion of children's systematic exploration. Resolute behavior on the part of children did not correlate with parents' causal language, but did correlate with children's own talk about actions and the exhibit. We next considered who set goals for the play in a more holistic measure of parent–child interaction style, identifying dyads as parent‐directed, child‐directed, or jointly‐directed in their interaction with one another. Children in different parent–child interaction styles engaged in different amounts of systematic exploration and had parents who engaged in different amounts of causal language. Resolute behavior and the language related to children engaging in such troubleshooting, seemed more consistent across the three parent–child interaction styles. Using general linear mixed modeling, we considered relations within sequences of action and talk. We found that the timing of parents' causal language was crucial to whether children engaged in systematic exploration. Parents' causal talk was a predictor of children's systematic exploration only if it occurred prior to the act of spinning the gears (while children were building gear machines). We did not observe an effect of causal language when it occurred concurrently with or after children's spinning. Similarly, children's talk about their actions and the exhibit predicted their resolute behavior, but only when the talk occurred while the child was encountering the problem. No effects were found for models where the talk happened concurrently or after resolving the problem. Finally, we considered how explaining and exploring related to children's causal thinking. We analyzed measures of children's causal thinking about gears and a free play measure with a novel set of gears. Principal component analysis revealed a latent factor of causal thinking in these measures. Structural equation modeling examined how parents' background in science related to children's systematic exploration, parents' causal language, and parent–child interaction style, and then how those factors predicted children's causal thinking. In a full model, with children's age and gender included, children's systematic exploration related to children's causal thinking. Overall, these data demonstrate that children's systematic exploration and parents' causal explanation are best studied in relation to one another, because both contributed to children's learning while playing at a museum exhibit. Children engaged in systematic exploration, which supported their causal thinking. Parents' causal talk supported children's exploration when it was presented at certain times during the interaction. In contrast, children's persistence in problem solving was less sensitive to parents' talk or interaction style, and more related to children's own language, which may act as a form of self‐explanation. We discuss the findings in light of ongoing approaches to promote the benefit of parent–child interaction during play for children's learning and problem solving. We also examine the implications of these findings for formal and informal learning settings, and for theoretical integration of constructivist and sociocultural approaches in the study of children's causal thinking.
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The present study examines the impacts of cooperative learning on the motivation for 72 second-year Vietnamese higher education students in the Research Methods in Education over the nine-week course. Seventy-two students were allocated into two smaller groups of 36 students. The same lecturer was assigned to teach these two groups of students. Cooperative learning was applied for the experimental group, while lecture-based teaching was utilized in the control group for the whole course. The study outcome demonstrated significant higher learning motivation in the experimental group than that in the control group. Implications for innovation in teaching methods and further research are suggested to popularize more cooperative learning for better learning outcomes.
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