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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 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.
Spatial scaling and mathematical reasoning. In recent years, I have become interested in exploring whether different patterns of associations between specific spatial and math skills can provide insight into common underlying mechanisms. I am especially interested in the understanding of relative magnitude, both in mathematical thinking and in spatial reasoning. I have begun to explore this interest specifically for spatial scaling and relative number understanding, such as numberline estimation and reasoning about fractions and proportions.
curiosity and question asking
Despite widespread interest in and acknowledgment of the importance of curiosity, there are substantial gaps in our current understanding of curiosity and how it intersects with intellectual development in childhood. Evidence suggests that curiosity promotes a range of positive outcomes from exploration and persistence in information seeking to academic performance and longer-term well-being (Kashdan & Silvia, 2009; Kashdan & Steger, 2007; von Stumm et al., 2011). Yet, we know very little about curiosity, and we lack an evidence-based theoretical conceptualization of curiosity in children, including how curiosity in educational contexts might shape the ways children think about learning and being learners. What does curiosity in educational settings look like? Is it stable or does it change over time or across subject areas? Does curiosity have differing developmental trajectories across children? How sensitive is it to environmental inputs, such as instruction, and what kinds of instructional practices promote curiosity? More generally, if curiosity is seen as an important virtue in adults, how can we can support its development in children, and how do changes in curiosity influence children’s broader profile of intellectual character virtues? Can curiosity prepare children to be lifelong learners? My research addresses these questions.
Measures of curiosity and related constructs. We are currently working on developing measures of curiosity, academic orientations, creativity, open-minded thinking, and intellectual courage. Our goals include investigating whether curiosity is domain general or specific, differences between depth and breadth in information seeking, relations among intellectual virtues and orientations, and how to develop curiosity in children. This requires new measures, and better evaluation of existing measures. We are working on both questionnaire-style tools and direct behavioral measures that can be used with young children.
Teachers' instruction of curiosity and motivation. We are interested in teachers' use of instructional language to promote students' curiosity and motivation. We identified specific practices that can support becoming curious and acting on curiosity, and developed a coding framework to measure the frequency of these practices during instruction. We are using this framework to observe instruction throughout a school year, measuring students' curiosity and other character values at several timepoints.
This line of work has been supported by funds from the John Templeton Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Center for curriculum Redesign.