Loyola University Chicago

Department of Psychology


Psychology professors receive funding to study STEM learning in museums

Psychology professors receive funding to study STEM learning in museums

The Tinkering Lab, a permanent exhibit at the Chicago Children's Museum.

Two Loyola professors recently received funding for a study that could uncover new ways to engage children in science and math fields.

The National Science Foundation awarded $739,522 to Dr. Catherine Haden and Dr. Perla Gamez, professors in the Department of Psychology, to support their research project, “Advancing Early STEM Learning Opportunities through Tinkering and Reflection.” The project is a collaborative work between Haden and Gamez, as well as Professor David Uttal at Northwestern University and Tsivia Cohen from the Chicago Children’s Museum.

According to Haden, the research seeks to develop practices to advance informal STEM learning in museum environments. Specifically, Haden and Gamez are working to see how “tinkering” with real tools, materials, and small machines can help young children understand scientific processes.

To answer this question, Haden and Gamez are working with 350 children, ages 6-8, and their families who visit Chicago Children’s Museum. In the study, parents and children work together to complete tinkering activities. One way they hope to increase STEM conversations is by inviting parents to play the role of “video journalist” and document the tinkering process while asking questions about the child’s decisions and actions.

According to Gamez, these interactions can be an important way for parents to help children remember and reflect on what they’ve learned. Haden stressed the importance of parents in the tinkering process.

“Many tinkering activities may be too open-ended for young children, but parents can help structure these interactions and enhancing STEM learning opportunities,” she said.

Haden, Gamez, and others involved in the project hope to find approaches that can ultimately encourage children to pursue further STEM education and career options.

 “Nationally, there are just not enough people interested in STEM careers to meet the current demands,” Haden said. “But one way to solve the STEM education problem can be by fostering children's early interest.”

This research project is a part of the Children's Memory and Learning Lab. Learn more about the research team here