Head Start on Engineering: Collaborating with Families for a More Equitable Vision of STEM Education (2023)


Description

Head Start on Engineering (www.terc.edu/hse) is an ongoing initiative focused on empowering families to use engineering to help their children thrive. We also aspire to collaborate as equal partners with the communities we serve and inform a more equitable vision for engineering education in our society. The project is a partnership between TERC, Mt. Hood Community College Head Start, University of Notre Dame, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Over the last several years, our work with families has highlighted the unique ways that families with preschool-age children (3 to 5 years) engage with engineering and how they adapt and leverage these experiences to support their children’s learning and development.

Ve la versión en español. (View Spanish version.)

NSF Awards: 1515628, 1906409, 1906433, 1930848

Discussion

This discussion took place during the TERC Video Showcase Event Nov. 14-21, 2023. Discussion is now closed.
24 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 13, 2023 6:01 pm
Hello friends and colleagues! Thanks for visiting the Head Start on Engineering video showcase page. In our video, we feature the voices of a few of the many parents and caregivers with young children who collaborated with us on this project and have shaped our ideas about engineering, informal STEM learning, equity, and more.
 
Smirla and I will be moderating the online discussion, and hopefully a few other team members will be dropping in as well. This is a highly collaborative project that has been going on since 2014 and includes staff and families at Mt. Hood Community College Head Start, community engagement specialists at the Greater Middle East Center, and STEM researchers and educators at TERC, University of Notre Dame, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Throughout the project, we have aspired to rethink the ways we work with families and community partners as a key part of our equity commitments.
 
Please share your thoughts and feedback. Here are a few questions that are of particular interest to our team:

  • What strategies or approaches have you used to collaborate authentically with caregivers and families and elevate their voices in STEM education research?
  • As a field, how are we broadening our perspectives on STEM topics and skills in order to center the existing knowledge, practices, and experiences of communities?
  • What does it look like to design research studies or develop programs that value the goals and interests of families at an equal level to those of researchers and educators?

 
We have a bilingual team here, so please feel free to share your thoughts and questions in either Spanish or English. We look forward to hearing from you on the discussion board!

Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
November 14, 2023 12:24 pm
Hi! I loved watching your video. I enjoyed listening to the comments by parents about how they want to spend more quality time with their kids and how engineering is an everyday thing. I really appreciate how this project brings to the front the importance of everyday activities and interactions to learn.

I noticed that books were one of the objects that centered families’ attention while talking about engineering. Can you talk a little bit about how you have integrated books into a project centered in engineering?

Looking forward to the conversation!

Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 14, 2023 3:34 pm
Thanks for checking out our video, Nuria. And thanks for the question. Books, and narratives in general, have been a critical part of our work on engineering with families and young children. All the engineering activities and design challenges we have used in our projects are based on books—or, in a few cases, songs—and all the activity kits that we provide to families include books. The stories in these books and songs create an imaginative context that frames and motivates the engineering for children and families. For example, families use the stories to clarify the engineering design challenge and to make decisions during the testing and revision process. Our research suggests that the story context also supports children in expanding the original design challenges to incorporate their own interests or imagined goals and constraints. Finally, our work and studies by other researchers suggest that the story framework created by books or songs supports user-centered design and empathy during engineering design. So, lot’s going on when we combine books with STEM learning experiences!
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
November 16, 2023 11:15 am
Reply to  Scott Pattison
Can you talk a little more about how books and songs support user-centered designs and empathy during engineering design? How do you study the connection between the two? How does the engineering design look like when these books and stories are not part of the experience?
Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 16, 2023 3:24 pm
Thanks for the questions, Nuria. We have not done traditional comparative studies, which is a fair point. But in our close qualitative analysis of videos of families interacting with engineering activities, we see these connections emerge again and again. Families bring the characters from the stories and songs into the conversations and make design decisions based on the perceived needs of those characters, which is at the heart of user-centered design. Children and families also layer on new goals and design constraints based on the characters and details from the narratives, like wanting to add a playground to the house they have built for their chickens or wanting to make sure that their house has windows so the baby chicks can watch out for foxes. Our iterative design research also allows us to see how family interactions change as the activities evolve, including when books are swapped or activities are adjusted to align with the stories in different ways.
 
My comments about empathy are based more on the work of others, since we have not looked at that construct as specifically. Here is an example article from the team at New York Hall of Science:

  • Letourneau, S. M., Bennett, D. T., Liu, C., Argudo, Y., Peppler, K., Keune, A., Dahn, M., & McMillan Culp, K. (2022). Observing empathy in informal engineering activities with girls ages 7–14. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER), 11(2). https://doi.org/10.7771/2157-9288.1354
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
November 17, 2023 9:28 am
Reply to  Scott Pattison
I love the idea of a playground for chickens!

Thanks for sharing the article. We have seen very similar things in our research with women of color in engineering and computing. Using their STEM skills to help the community is a key motivator to enter and stay in their studies. I had not thought about when this starts, but it makes sense that it is not that different with children.

Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 17, 2023 5:02 pm
This is very cool, Nuria. It’s inspiring to think about the fundamental human values and motivations that cut across ages and STEM domains.
Ivel Gontan
Ivel Gontan
November 14, 2023 1:14 pm
Awesome video! I loved the weaving of family voices and project goals. I especially appreciated the potential this project has to re-cast engineering in a less intimidating light and in a way that families and parents in particular can leverage learnings to engage with their kiddos in quality time.

What does it look like to design research studies or develop programs that value the goals and interests of families at an equal level to those of researchers and educators?
One of the things that comes to mind is how we center community priorities with the same amount of effort and value that we do the research goals and priorities and eventually meld those together into the design. So, for example if spending time together in an intellectually and creatively stimulating way is a parent goal then a research goal can emerge on how to make this easier for parents to do. Another idea that comes to mind is continuing to involve parents in the growth of the research itself- parent research boards? Committee on Fun Time? Just incorporating ways to grow a parent’s skill sets in ways that are reciprocal and mutually beneficial would be rad.
Great job, team! Looking forward to following your work! 😀

Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 14, 2023 3:37 pm
Reply to  Ivel Gontan
Thanks, Ivel! I love your description of a reciprocal and mutually beneficial approach: families informing research and research benefiting families directly. It seems like this can really push us as a field to think differently about our approaches and methods.
Mia Ong
Mia Ong
November 14, 2023 4:24 pm
Fantastic video! I love the emphasis on family togetherness and accessible engineering. I noticed that the photos showed mostly mothers and other women caregivers. How and how often are dads and other men involved? And are they involved in the activities in similar or different ways?
Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 15, 2023 6:04 pm
Reply to  Mia Ong
Thanks for the question, Mia! We have definitely had fathers and father figures involved in the program. Unfortunately, none of them were available for the shoots to create this video. This last program year, we had several dads who were our primary contacts for the family research. We also had several families that initially indicated that the fathers in the family probably couldn’t be involved in the program because of their work schedules. But then talking to them later, they said they found ways to involve the dads and the whole family. We also collaborated with our local Head Start partner to provide take-home engineering kits as part of one of their father engagement events, which was well received by families in the community. Our research suggests that when families have the flexibility to engage in STEM learning when and where they want, they find ways to involve everyone. Since fathers have not traditionally been well represented in the early childhood or family learning literature, this is definitely an area we would like to continue to explore in the future.
Jennifer Knudsen
Jennifer Knudsen
November 15, 2023 8:37 am
I particularly loved the videos of children! And the mom who sees engineering everywhere. What are the everyday contexts are easiest caregivers to see as opportunities for engineering?
Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 15, 2023 10:38 pm
Thanks for checking out our video, Jennifer, and for the question! We recently published a piece about the connections families tell us they are making between the engineering in the program and their everyday lives. The analysis highlighted several themes related to the ways families came to understand engineering through the program and how they connected this understanding to their own interests, beliefs, and values: (a) everyday problem solving, (b) family relationship building, (c) child skill development, and (d) pathways to equity. But still lots to unpack in this area!
Traci Higgins
Traci Higgins
November 15, 2023 12:34 pm
Learning is deeply rooted in play–we know this from the science, but we see such wonderful images of this in the video. I am wondering how the experience of being part of this project might change how caretakers think about STEM learning. I am imagining that such experiences foster shared curiosity and confidence in problem solving that continue to inspire families well beyond the timeline of the project. It would be so interesting to follow up with these families years later to see how these experiences might continue to impact family activities–including both ways they spend free time together and also how they interact around homework and projects.
Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 15, 2023 6:16 pm
Reply to  Traci Higgins
I agree, this is really interesting, Traci. We have conducted longitudinal case studies with families, talking with them one to two years after their experience with the program. A key finding from this work is that ongoing interest and engagement pathways are unique to each family, based on their own goals and life experiences before, during, and after the program. But for most families, the program appears to have a deep and long-lasting impact. For some, it’s about the way they see engineering and continue to seek out new engineering learning experiences. For others it’s about the power of finding more opportunities to spend time and learn together as a family. And there are many other stories of long-term impacts. I think the questions about how this influences connections with school is an interesting one that we could explore more in the future. The transition for these families from preschool is exciting but also challenging, so caregivers often talk about the ways they are adjusting to the new relationship with school for them and their children.
Stephen Alkins
Stephen Alkins
November 15, 2023 2:07 pm
Of course, this work is crucial and eye-opening for unlocking new ways parents can be involved and be advocates for their children. As a more longitudinal question I wonder how this work may transform how students visualize/envision scientists and engineers. With most of the videos I saw engagement with mothers (presumably). I wonder if learners have initial assumptions of what engineers look like, and does this activity change their notion of who does engineering. Hopefully I am clear in that logic. Great video.

Also, in response to your question around equity-centered methods, I think others have mentioned it above and before, but I have wanted TERC (at least locally in the Boston-area) to form a community board to engage more readily with families so that they help us co-develop and run projects collaboratively.

Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 15, 2023 6:10 pm
Reply to  Stephen Alkins
Thanks for the reflections, Stephen! When we talk to families, they have some initial ideas about engineering, but I would say not as many preconceptions compared to science and math. Through their experience with the program, we hear some families talk about engineering as a career they are now more aware of for their children. But as the video indicates, they also talk about the ways they see engineering as part of their everyday problem solving. Probably most importantly, they are helping us push on traditional ideas about what counts as engineering, which we hope can inform the way engineering is taught and practiced at all age levels.
Jaclyn Parks
Jaclyn Parks
November 15, 2023 3:47 pm
I love this video! I’ve read many quotes from the Head Start on Engineering participants but hearing and seeing them in a video really drives home how special this work is. I know personally it has helped me expand my view of engineering and how I can help foster those skills when playing with my son. Thank you for that!
Last edited 5 months ago by Jaclyn Parks
Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 15, 2023 6:06 pm
Reply to  Jaclyn Parks
Thank you, Jaclyn. This is the first time we were invited into families’ homes to capture video and gather their testimonials about the program. It was certainly a powerful experience for everyone on the project team.
Anushree Bopardikar
Anushree Bopardikar
November 16, 2023 2:43 pm
I enjoyed watching the interactions and activities among family members! Could you say more about what patterns, similarities, or differences, if any, your team has noticed when children of different ages engage in engineering-based activities with their families? For example, how do younger vs. older children participate and how do their caregivers respond to them? Have the activities influenced any family dynamics among siblings who engage together with the books and hands-on activities?
Scott Pattison
Scott Pattison
November 16, 2023 3:31 pm
Thanks for watching our video, Anushree, and for the question. This is actually something we are planning to study in more detail in the NSF proposal we are submitting in January! We have lots of hypotheses about these interactions, but we need to look at that aspect of the interactions in more detail. What we do know is that parents and caregivers regularly tell us that supporting collaboration and relationship building among siblings and children of different ages in the family is a central goal for them. And families often leverage opportunities to support these whole-family interactions whenever they can. We talk about this in our recent essay published in Educational Researcher. Many families also tell us that STEM activities and programs like HSE that allow them to spend time together motivate them to seek out other similar experiences and continue to support connections across family members.
Anna Jennerjohn
Anna Jennerjohn
November 20, 2023 5:15 pm
Hi Scott and Smirla – Just dropping in to say how much I appreciated learning more about your work and this project. I have your recent article in my queue and look forward to reading about how methodologies can more closely resemble at-home contexts.
Smirla Ramos
Smirla Ramos
November 21, 2023 12:06 am
Hi Anna, thanks for checking the video out and for adding our recent article to your reading queue. We appreciate it and would love to have more conversations with you and your team related to supporting families across a variety of contexts.
Elise Levin-Guracar
Elise Levin-Guracar
November 21, 2023 1:47 pm
I love how this project connects with and celebrates what families are already doing together, and that the activities support families in seeing how what they are doing is related to engineering!