Promoting Children's Learning About Biological Variability by Leveraging Simple Card Games
Effective Years: 2023-2027
Biodiversity is fundamental to understanding the way biologists study nature. There is much more variability within species than people recognize, and it is this variability that fuels development and change of species in contexts of survival and reproduction. It is important that young children understand this foundational idea. This project will test an innovative approach to promoting comparisons relevant to understanding biological variability. This approach involves modifying two popular games, War and Uno, by incorporating cards that depict organisms at different stages of development (e.g., insect egg, larva, pupa, and adult). In playing these games, players engage in comparisons relevant to understanding biodiversity, such as comparing different life stages for a single species, or comparing similar stages for different species. The research investigates caregiver-child interactions and comparisons during game play and examines how game play affects children's learning about biological variability. The research involves lab-based studies with 2nd- and 5th-grade children playing LifeCycles (modified War) and CyClo (modified Uno) and is conducting parallel studies in museums, in order to examine caregiver-child interaction and learning in both controlled and authentic settings. The team will design and pilot a museum exhibit prototype that incorporates the games and the lessons learned through the research. The results will build understanding about how foundational knowledge about diversity in biology can help young students be ready for subsequent biology education.
In the elementary grades, children are expected to learn about biodiversity, including within-species variability. Understanding biodiversity involves relational reasoning: discerning relevant relationships within and among biological kinds. These relationships are salient when children compare examples within or between biological categories. However, comparison is cognitively demanding, and educational materials often lack adequate support for comparison. This project tests an innovative approach to promoting relational reasoning by incorporating cards in modified versions of Uno and War that depict organisms at different stages of development (e.g., insect egg, larva, pupa, and adult). This research is conducting lab-based studies with 2nd- and 5th-grade children playing these two card games (n=150) and is testing the effects of systematically varying the number and similarity of the exemplars in the games. The research also is testing the effectiveness of providing caregivers with support for scaffolding children's relational thinking. Parallel studies in museums are examining caregiver-child interaction in game play in authentic settings. Finally, the team will design and pilot test a museum exhibit prototype that incorporates the games and the lessons learned through the research.
This project is supported by NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.