Current Projects

Advancing Early STEM Learning through Haptic Feedback Displays

An important area of STEM education involves improving math and science literacies at the pre-kindergarten (pre-K) level. Young children have the natural capacity to explore and understand STEM concepts in everyday life, and learning these early skills affects later development. Although there is a growing use of tablet computers in both formal and informal educational settings, little is known about how tablets support learning, particularly in STEM. One argument against purely digital content on a tablet computer, however, is that tactile cues and sensory experiences important for STEM learning are now lost. This project examines whether the emerging technology of haptic — or tactile feedback — touch-screen displays can improve preschoolers’ learning of science concepts. The PIs will conduct human-centered design of new haptic science learning applications, which will involve preschool STEM education experts in the creation of these novel materials and two large-scale laboratory experiments that will assess the effectiveness of haptic feedback in tablet-based learning. Results will contribute new knowledge of (1) how to design educational media leveraging surface haptic displays and (2) the conditions under which this technology effectively promotes learning and engagement among young children.
This project is conducted in collaboration with Anne Marie Piper and the Inclusive Technology Lab.

Foundation of Music: The Impact of a School-Based Digital Music Program on Engaging Strengths of African American Youth

Contextual factors such as poverty, racism, exposure to violence and living in inner-city neighborhoods provides unique vulnerability for Black youth (Graves, Kaslow, & Frabutt, 2010).  One of the major issues facing many cities in America is figuring out how to adequately engage with these youths.  This study evaluates the program outcomes of Foundation of Music’s school based hip-hop songwriting and digital music production program (SWP) in seven Chicago elementary schools. The program is a year –long music class being piloted in low income communities of color with youth aged 11 to 14 years. The intention of this ongoing evaluation is to assess the effectiveness of the program’s stated goals and objectives of promoting pro-social behavior, self efficacy with digital media, STEM learning outcomes and engaging strengths within participants.


Supporting Science Talk

Graduate student Bri Hightower received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to fund her research investigating how families with preschool children engage in science talk together. Through interviews and focus groups, Hightower will uncover how families are already naturally engaging in science-talk and identify opportunities when science-talk could be added to parent-child interactions. Hightower’s project will culminate in an intervention designed to provoke parent-child science talk.


Young Children’s STEM Learning from Media
The Center on Media and Human Development is working in collaboration with the Children’s Digital Media Center and the Childhood Cognition Lab on a second NSF-sponsored project to study very young children’s learning of STEM content from media characters. Some of the projects that have been conducted on children’s STEM learning from media include:

Parent-Child Co-Use of Interactive STEM Apps 

Much research shows that children learn more when they co-view television with their parents compared to watching alone, particularly because parents can highlight and discuss important learning concepts with their children. Given this research, we are interested in how parents and children use educational apps together on a touchscreen device, and whether co-use affects children’s learning. We are currently conducting research that investigates how parents and their 4-year-old children interact while using an app together that is designed to teach children the building-blocks of coding. We are also interested in whether parent-child interaction varies across situations and contexts, and therefore are observing parents and children using the app together and also playing with blocks. We hope this research will help us better understand how parents and children use interactive devices together, whether there are differences between how parents interact with their children around media and non-media, and how to support parent-child interactions in a way that promotes children’s learning.

Parent Attitudes about STEM Learning and Media

We are interviewing parents to learn how they engage their preschool child in math and science learning outside of school and to uncover if media is being used to support their child’s informal learning. These interviews will help inform the development of the STEM Survey that will be distributed during Summer 2017.

Character Portrayals in STEM-focused Educational Television Shows and their Impact on Children’s Attitudes Towards STEM

STEM skills are essential to preparing children for an increasingly technological global workforce. Yet, children in many countries, including the U.S., continue to fall behind their international peers in these areas. Interest in STEM is especially low for female and minority students in the U.S., which leads to lower achievement and less participation in these fields later in life. These early achievement gaps may be exacerbated by the mass media. Content analyses reveal that characters engaging in math and science on TV are overwhelmingly male and white. However, there is potential for counter-stereotypical portrayals to counteract these traditional stereotypes. Encouragingly, anecdotal evidence suggests that educational television shows created in recent years have begun to feature more diverse characters, but the effect of these positive portrayals is yet unknown. The goal of this project is to understand the current landscape of characters featured in STEM television for young children today through a content analysis (Study 1), and to experimentally investigate whether children’s exposure to these programs and identification with featured characters can increase their attitudes and efficacy towards STEM, especially for girls and children of color (Study 2). 

Learning to Code in the Classroom

Coding is emerging as an important piece of STEM and efforts to begin building foundational coding skills are already underway in the early childhood education space. We conducted a naturalistic observation of a week-long summer enrichment camp for preschoolers designed to teach coding via two tablet-based apps; Daisy the Dinosaur and Kodable. We administered pre- and post-assessments of app familiarity, coding knowledge, game knowledge, and app appeal over the course of the week. Parents with children enrolled in the larger summer enrichment program also completed an online survey describing their attitudes and beliefs around STEM learning, as well as their experiences with media and interactive technology.