Interest Catalysts: The Unique Ways Families Connect with Program Experiences to Support Long-Term STEM Interest Pathways in Early Childhood

Pattison, S. A., Ramos Montañez, S., Santiago, A., Svarovsky, G. N., Douglass, A., Núñez, V., Allen, J., & Wagner, C.

Paper presented at the NARST 2022 Annual International Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia.


Interest is a critical motivating factor shaping how children engage with STEM inside and outside of school and across their lives. In this paper, we introduce the concept of interest catalyst that emerged from longitudinal research with preschool-age children and their families as critical to the process through which each family developed unique interest pathways through their experience with a family-based informal engineering education program. As defined by the team, an interest catalyst is an instance or moment in which an element of the program (or other learning resource or experience) connects with the prior interests, knowledge, experiences, or values of the family in order to catalyze new, reinforced, or transformed interests or interest-related behaviors. The concept emphasizes that interest development is not a property of only the family or the experience but a unique combination and outcome of the two.