Investigating Children’s Naturalistic Explorations in a Living History Museum
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Researchers have taken the approach of examining children’s learning in more naturalistic settings such as museums, science centers, and zoos (e.g., Sobel & Jipson, 2015), as in-lab experiments do not resemble the situations that children most often find themselves learning in. This work has primarily focused on how children acquire science concepts from highly structured indoor exhibits, and lacks ecological validity to everyday life. A living history village, on the other hand, offers a middle ground between children’s everyday lives and other informal learning environments, as the context of the space is more similar to a child’s life. This dissertation explores the learning opportunities in a living history village at the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum (WRM), and whether the content of parents and children’s conversations in these spaces resembles what one might expect given previous in-lab findings. Chapter Two examines 4- to 8-year-old children’s (N= 40, Mage=5.98 years) spontaneous interactions with parents and museum staff while exploring artifacts. The nature of discussions about artifacts evolved with child age, as the proportion of children’s talk related to simple identification of artifacts decreases with age. Parents and staff provided unique learning opportunities by discussing different aspects of artifacts at different rates, and used a variety of strategies to teach their children about different artifact properties. Children also responded to different pedagogical strategies differently; they were most engaged and produced more information in response to critical thinking questions. Using the same dataset as Chapter Two, Chapter Three examines whether there are opportunities for informal science learning for 4- to 8-year-old children in unexpected places, such as a living history village. I specifically examined the nature of science talk children were exposed to (i.e., biology, physics, or engineering; guided by the Ontario and Michigan Science Curriculums) and how these topics were discussed. Children of all ages are drawn to discussing biology, whereas children discuss more science concepts related to engineering and physics with age. Parents and staff provide different science learning opportunities for children and discuss these science concepts differently. Chapter Four explores whether it was possible to intervene on children’s (N=61; 4-to 8-years-old) exploration and learning to direct their attention to a specific feature of an artifact, namely the causal mechanisms of its operation. Prior to entering the exhibit, children were randomly assigned to receive a “component” prompt that focused their attention on the machine’s internal mechanisms or a “history” prompt as a control. Children generally discussed most aspects of the machine, including the whole machine, its parts, and to a lesser extent, its mechanisms. In the test phase, older children recalled more information than younger children about all aspects of the machine, and appeared more knowledgeable to adult coders. Children who received the component prompt were rated as more knowledgeable about the machine in the test phase, suggesting that this prompt influenced what they learned. Taken together, the results suggest that children are engaging in the living history exhibit in a meaningful way, although they require the support of both parents and staff to fully take advantage of the learning opportunities present. It also provides evidence that the laboratory findings regarding children’s artifact, science, and causal knowledge are evident in their spontaneous conversations. These findings are also a concrete step towards quantifying the educational value of visitor experiences at the WRM.
Cite this version of the work
Elizabeth Attisano (2022). Investigating Children’s Naturalistic Explorations in a Living History Museum. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17864