Published Research

Children and family members visiting Children’s Discovery Museum provided valuable data for these studies.


Family Science Talk in Museums: Predicting Children’s Engagement From Variations in Talk and Activity (2017)
Maureen A. Callanan, Claudia L. Castañeda, Megan R. Luce, and Jennifer L. Martin ($$)

Children’s developing reasoning skills are better understood within the context of their social and cultural lives. As part of a research–museum partnership, this article reports a study exploring science-relevant conversations of 82 families, with children between 3 and 11 years, while visiting a children’s museum exhibit about mammoth bones, and in a focused one-on-one exploration of a “mystery object.” Parents’ use of a variety of types of science talk predicted children’s conceptual engagement in the exhibit, but interestingly, different types of parent talk predicted children’s engagement depending on the order of the two activities. The findings illustrate the importance of studying children’s thinking in real-world contexts and inform creation of effective real-world science experiences for children and families.

Callanan, M. A., Castañeda, C. L., Luce, M. R. and Martin, J. L. (2017), Family Science Talk in Museums: Predicting Children’s Engagement From Variations in Talk and Activity. Child Dev, 88: 1492–1504. doi:10.1111/cdev.12886

Tomorrow’s Museum: Multilingual Audiences and the Learning Institution (2015)
Jenni Martin and Marilee Jennings

This article provides a case study that outlines the steps taken on an institutional path that began with a focus on one targeted audience and flourished, through reflection and learning, to become a gateway toward institutional cultural competence. Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose began its journey toward engaging multilingual audiences as an audience development initiative to bring more Latino visitors to the institution. Included are a series of questions to consider when engaging new communities, increasing organizational capacity, and increasing communication and cultural competence for staff.

Martin, J. and Jennings, M. (2015) Tomorrow’s Museum: Multilingual Audiences and the Learning Institution. Museums and Social Issues, Vol. 10, Issue 1, April, 2015.

Parents Explain More Often to Boys than to Girls during Shared Scientific Thinking (2001)
Kevin Crowley, Maureen Callanan, Harriet Tenenbaum, & Elizabeth Allen ($$)

Young children’s everyday scientific thinking often occurs in the context of parent-child interactions. In a study of naturally occurring family conversation, parents were three times more likely to explain science to boys than to girls while using interactive science exhibits in a museum. This difference in explanation occurred despite the fact that parents were equally likely to talk to their male and female children about how to use the exhibits and about the evidence generated by the exhibits. The findings suggest that parents engaged in informal science activities with their children may be unintentionally contributing to a gender gap in children’s scientific literacy well before children encounter formal science instruction in grade school.

Psychological Science, Vol. 12, No. 3 (May, 2001), 258-261

Identifying and supporting shared scientific reasoning in parent-child interactions (1998)
Kevin Crowley & Maureen Callanan

Journal of Museum Education, 23 (1998), 12-17

Shared scientific thinking in everyday parent-child activity (2001)
Kevin Crowley, Maureen Callanan, Jennifer Jipson, Jodi Galco, Karen Topping, & Jeff Shrager ($$)

Current accounts of the development of scientific reasoning focus on individual children’s ability to coordinate the collection and evaluation of evidence with the creation of theories to explain the evidence. This observational study of parent–child interactions in a children’s museum demonstrated that parents shape and support children’s scientific thinking in everyday, nonobligatory activity. When children engaged an exhibit with parents, their exploration of evidence was observed to be longer, broader, and more focused on relevant comparisons than children who engaged the exhibit without their parents. Parents were observed to talk to children about how to select and encode appropriate evidence and how to make direct comparisons between the most informative kinds of evidence. Parents also sometimes assumed the role of explainer by casting children’s experience in causal terms, connecting the experience to prior knowledge, or introducing abstract principles. We discuss these findings with respect to two dimensions of children’s scientific thinking: developments in evidence collection and developments in theory construction.

Sci Ed 85 (2001), 712–732

Parents’ science talk to their children in Mexican-descent families residing in the USA (2008)
Harriet Tenenbaum & Maureen Callanan ($$)

Everyday parent—child conversations may support children’s scientific understanding. The types and frequency of parent—child science talk may vary with the cultural and schooling background of the participants, and yet most research in the USA focuses on highly schooled European-American families. This study investigated 40 Mexican-descent parents’ science talk with their children (mean age = 5 years 7 months, range = 2 years 10 months to 8 years 6 months). Parents were divided between a higher schooling group who had completed secondary school, and a basic schooling group who had fewer than 12 years of formal schooling. Parents and children were videotaped engaging with science exhibits at a children’s museum and at home. Conversations were coded in terms of parents’ explanatory talk. In both contexts, Mexican-descent parents engaged children in explanatory science talk. At the museum, parents in the higher schooling group used more causal explanations, scientific principles explanations, and encouraging predictions types of explanations than did parents in the basic schooling group. By contrast, the only difference at home was that parents in the higher schooling group used more encouraging predictions talk than parents in the basic schooling group. Parents who had been to museums used more explanations than parents who had never visited a museum. The results suggest that while explanatory speech differed somewhat in two groups of Mexican-descent parents varying in formal schooling, all of these children from Mexican-descent families experienced some conversations that were relevant for their developing science literacy.

International Journal of Behavioral Development, Vol. 32 No 1, (2008), 1-12

Conversations about Science across Activities in Mexican-descent Families (2007)
Deborah Siegel, Jennifer Esterly, Maureen Callanan, Ramser Wright, & Rocio Navarro ($$)

Parent-child “everyday” conversations have been suggested as a source of children’s early science learning. If such conversations are important, then it would be pertinent to know whether children from different family backgrounds have different experiences talking about science in informal settings. We focus on the relation between parents’ schooling and both their explanatory talk in science-related activities and the styles of interaction they use with their children. Families from different schooling backgrounds within one under-represented group in science education–Mexican-descent families–were included in this study. Forty families were observed in two science-related activities. In the sink-or-float task, families were asked to predict which of a variety of objects would sink and which would float, and then to test their predictions in a tub of water. The second activity was an open-ended visit to a local children’s museum. Results showed similar patterns in scientific talk on the sink-or-float task across the two groups. However, the interaction style varied with schooling across the two activities; parents with higher schooling were more directive than parents with basic schooling. Interaction style was also found to vary with task structure, with more open-ended tasks affording more collaborative interactions. Such research into parent-child conversations in science-related activities can help begin to guide us in bridging children’s learning environments–home, school, and museum–and potentially fostering children’s science learning, particularly in those groups under-represented in the sciences. (Contains 2 tables, 1 figure and 4 notes.)

International Journal of Science Education, Vol. 29 No 12, (2007), 1447 – 1466

See also Project Evaluations.