Exploring how children develop early interest and understanding in engineering canprovide useful information for the ongoing efforts to increase the access of women inengineering careers. Drawing on occupational choice theories, girls and women havetended to place a high value on helping others in their work, but do not often realize thatcareers in engineering can lead to these types of endeavors. Adding layers of socialcontext that highlight the connections between engineering endeavors and improving thelives of others may create a more engaging experience for girls and women, andpotentially lead to increased development of girls’ engineering interest and understanding.Additionally, informal learning environments are positioned to become a pivotal role in inspiring today’s youth to pursue careers in STEM. These contexts have already been shown to be important avenues in which children can develop lifelong interest and understanding of broad range of STEM topics. Moreover, informal learning environments often allow for parents and children to work together to foster interest and engagement within STEM.Parent-child dyads who were visiting a metropolitan science museum as part of it's program for preschool-aged children were asked to participate in a study that explores parent-child engineering conversations through a conversation analysis methodology. Dyads consisting of a parent with their daughter (aged 3-5 years) were video-recorded while engaged in two different engineering tasks: building a tower out of familiar materials and constructing a second tower out of unfamiliar materials. In the preliminary phase, participants (n = 25) were asked to build a tower with a specified goal, whereas participants in the follow-up phase (n = 25) were given the same directions though infused with a social context (i.e. building for someone, for a specified purpose).This paper will examine the differences in the use of context between fathers and mothers within the preliminary and follow-up phases, including the frequency and type of context used towards the design of the towers. Four case studies were evaluated to highlight key findings such as the addition of context to the preliminary phase and the involvement of social context in the follow-up. It was found that in the preliminary phase that both parents and the children added context to the task – a finding that resonates with the research that girls are more interested in socially relevant activities. When given a more detailed background, children integrated the given context within design decisions and explanations even going so far as to expand on the original information.By examining the dyad’s interaction, we hope to identify recommendations we can make to other parents on how to foster engineering interest in their children, as well as contribute ideas for activities for K-5 classrooms to reach a wider range of children.
Date of this Version