Loyola University Chicago

Children's Memory and Learning

Tinkering and Reflection


Catherine Haden, PhD, and Perla Gámez, PhD, recently received a nearly $740,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to better understand how children learn and develop an interest in the STEM fields. Their study will observe how children interact with the tools and supplies in the Tinkering Lab at the Chicago Children’s Museum. The work is being done in collaboration with Tsivia Cohen (Chicago Children's Museum) and David Uttal, PhD, (Northwestern University).

Nationally, there is tremendous interest in enhancing participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Providing rich opportunities for engagement in science and engineering practices may be key to developing a much larger cadre of young people who grow up interested in and pursue future STEM education and career options. One particularly powerful way to engage children in exploration and playful experimentation may be through learning experiences that call for tinkering with real objects and tools to make and remake things. Tinkering is an important target for research and educational practice for at least two reasons: (1) tinkering experiences are frequently social, involving children interacting with educators and family members who can support STEM-relevant tinkering in various ways and (2) tinkering is more open-ended than many other kinds of building experiences (e.g., puzzles, making a model airplane), because it is the participants' own unique questions and objectives that guide the activity. Thus, tinkering provides a highly accessible point of entry into early STEM learning for children and families from a variety of backgrounds, interests and levels of expertise. This Research-in-Service to Practice project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments.