Teaching Together: Engaging Parents and Preschoolers in STEM Activities & Academic Conversations

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Posted on February 11, 2022 by childrenslearninginstitute



Principal Investigator:

Tricia Zucker, Ph.D.

Funding Agency:

National Science Foundation

Description of the Project:

This project examines the conditions in which families and young learners most benefit from “doing science and math” together among a population that is typically underserved with respect to STEM experiences–families experiencing poverty. The project uses an experimental design to test the added value of providing incremental supports for informal STEM learning. The project also explores how the quantity and quality parent-child informal learning interactions may relate to changes in children’s science and mathematics knowledge during the pre-kindergarten year. The project partners include CLI and the Children’s Museum of Houston.

This project builds on an existing program called Teaching Together that uses interactive parent-child workshops led by a museum educator and focused on supporting STEM learning at home. The goal of these workshops is to increase parents’/caregivers’ self-perception and ability to serve as their child’s first teacher by supporting learning and inquiry conversations during daily routines and informal STEM activities. Families attend a series of afternoon and evening workshops at their child’s preschool center and at a local children’s museum. Parents/Caregivers may participate in online home learning activities and museum experiences.

The project is designed to increase understanding of how parents/caregivers can be encouraged to support informal STEM learning by experimentally manipulating key aspects of the broader expectancy-value-cost motivation theory, which is well established in psychology and education literatures but has not been applied to preschool parent-child informal STEM learning. More specifically, the intervention conditions are designed to identify how specific parent supports can mitigate potential barriers that families experiencing poverty face.

The first phase of the project uses an iterative process to refine the curriculum and expand the collection of resources designed for families of 3- to 5-year-olds. The second phase uses an experimental study of the STEM program to examine conditions that maximize participation and effectiveness of family learning programs. In all, 360 families will be randomly assigned to four conditions:

  1. business-as-usual control
  2. Teaching Together core workshop-based program
  3. Teaching Together workshops + provision of inquiry-based STEM activity kits for the home
  4. Teaching Together workshop + activity kits + provision of monetary incentives for parents/caregivers when they document informal STEM learning experiences with their child

The interventions will occur in English and Spanish. A cost analysis across the interventions will also be conducted. This study uses quantitative and qualitative approaches. Data sources include parent surveys and interviews, conversation analysis of home learning activities, parent photo documentation of informal learning activities, and standardized assessments of children’s growth in mathematics, science, and vocabulary knowledge.


360 families of pre-kindergarten children

Research Sites:

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston