Spatial learning and development
Spatial reasoning is how we think about things like location, shapes, size, distance, and our relative position within each of these. This is important in every day life, but is also an important skill for children's success in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning. Research suggests that children's spatial thinking develops from play with materials that involve spatial relations, such as building with blocks or putting together puzzles. In our work, we study the specific ways in which these activities can improve spatial thinking, with hopes that this knowledge can be used for practical purposes, like designing toys and instruction.
Spatial Play and Gender. Building on some work investigating children's belief in ability stereotypes (see below), we are interested in understanding why boys play more with spatial toys than girls: are there differences in efficacy and interest? Do these, and children's stereotype beliefs and spatial performance, relate to parents' beliefs? We use mixed-methods to explore children's beliefs about toys, their efficacy and enjoyment of spatial play, and how parents' own beliefs might relate to those their children develop.
Spatial Intervention. In a current study, we designed a hide-and-seek game for children to play using maps. This helps children think about relative locations and spatial representations, both skills that are involved in a type of spatial thinking called spatial scaling. Children can do very simple spatial scaling tasks from quite young ages, but even adults can have trouble with spatial scaling on more difficult tasks. We are working on making our game as effective as possible in improving children's spatial scaling and use of spatial representations, while also exploring the specific ways that children can benefit from the game we use.
Spatial ability stereotype and bias. Psychology research finds that belonging to a group for which negative stereotypes exist can have negative impacts on children. For example, girls perform equally well on math tests as boys, except if they are reminded of their gender before taking the test (even if they aren't reminded of the stereotype that boys are better than girls at math!). Many people hold the stereotype belief that boys are more spatially inclined than girls, though we don't know when children start to hold this belief themselves. In this project, we explore the age at which children do start to have these stereotypes, and whether or not this belief relates to their actual spatial ability.
curiosity and question asking
Children’s motivation to learn plays a crucial mediating role in the ultimate success of any instructional effort, and one important motivator is children’s natural curiosity (Stipek, 2002). In our work on curiosity, we first created an operational definition and measure of children's curiosity by assessing their exploration. Now that we have that, we can study the development of curiosity, and use the measure to explore other related questions.
Teachers' instruction of curiosity and motivation. We are interested in teachers' use of instructional language to promote students' curiosity and motivation. In this project, funded by the Center for Curriculum Redesign and the Spencer Foundation, we are coding instructional language related to promoting curiosity and motivation. We will assess how often teachers use these types of language and whether the language use relates to achievement and student-reported attitudes about their learning. Experimental tests will assess whether the language leads to more curious behavior.
Curiosity and Achievement Motivation. We know that curiosity is a crucial aspect of children’s development and an important part of the learning process. In early education, kindergarten teachers name curiosity as one of the most important characteristics for children’s school readiness, and it is one of the primary “character strengths” emphasized by America’s largest network of charter schools. Yet, children’s curiosity seems to diminish as they progress through formal education. This project investigates the question of why this happens. We think that current classroom practices might promote a type of motivation that is inconsistent with learning for the sake of learning itself, and instead promotes a more competitive and performance based culture. This, in turn, might be hurting children's curiosity. Sign up for our database to receive updates on what we learn from our current studies on this topic!
Asking effective questions. Question asking is one way that curiosity can impact learning. Children most likely learn from all different types of questions, but some are more effective than others for gathering information. The questions that are most likely to lead to learning in more formal environments, such as at school, need to be effective for requesting the specific needed information. Unfortunately, children ask few if any questions at school, and they are not typically high-level questions to understand topics more deeply. For example, they may ask what an animal is called and what it eats, rather than why it lives in a specific habitat, or how it is impacted by different environmental factors. In this project, we try to break down the processes involved in asking effective questions and study how these different processes develop and lead to learning. Our future work will aim to develop methods of improving children's ability to ask effective questions.