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Current Projects

updated 3/31/2021

Exploring the origins of scientific literacy and interests

With the support of the National Science Foundation (#1535102), we are exploring variability in young children’s interest in, and ability to reason about, causal information. We are particularly interested in identifying potential relationships between this early variability and the development of children’s scientific literacy and STEM engagement. This project also explores the role of parents in shaping the foundations of these long-term trajectories before children even enter preschool. If predictive relationships are detected, our next step will be to develop interventions targeting persistent achievement and engagement gaps in science.

Optimizing early literacy interventions

Screen Shot 2019-04-18 at 10.36.42 PMWhile reading in general is beneficial for vocabulary growth, research has shown that having conversations about books is especially helpful. Unfortunately, intervention programs designed to teach parents how to have these conversations about books with their children have not always benefitted families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who are arguably in most need of assistance. We believe that investigating potential roadblocks to parents’ learning of these skills is a critical first step toward understanding this shortcoming in intervention efficacy. Our ultimate goal is to create better intervention tools with which to address early emerging, persistent, and consequential achievement gaps.

Specifying the nature of the ‘vocabulary gap’

Our goal in this project (National Science Foundation #1421494) is to better understand the nature of socioeconomic disparities in early vocabulary by moving beyond the traditional focus on the sheer number of words known by children to an exploration of potentially fundamental differences in children’s word learning skills. Our recently published data reveal that these word-learning skills partially mediate well-established relationships between socioeconomic status and vocabulary outcomes. In light of this finding, it might be that the most effective approaches to eliminating the ‘vocabulary gap’ will focus on teaching children how to learn new words, rather than solely on teaching specific words. We hope to explore this possibility in future work.