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Hi-Tech Innovation Gauges Science Learning in Preschoolers


An iPad app is the first of its kind to examine how preschoolers can learn about science by getting back to nature.

Researchers are blending technology with nature, as they present details on an iPad application to examine how young children are learning science skills in nature-themed outdoor play settings.

Alan Wight, a doctoral candidate in the University of Cincinnati School of Education; Cathy Maltbie, a research associate for the UC Evaluation Services Center; and Victoria Carr, a UC associate professor of education and director of the UC Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center, presented details on the innovation at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA)in Philadelphia.

The app, developed in partnership with UC and Kinetic Vision in Evendale, Ohio, is part of a National Science Foundation-supported project to examine preschool-age children’s learning and interest in science through their play and interactions in natural settings, such as PlayScapes. The study locations are the intentionally designed PlayScapes nature environments set on UC’s campus and at the Cincinnati Nature Center.

The iPad application is being used to streamline a research technique known as behavior mapping. The researchers say this form of data collection has been used for 40 years to assist environmental psychologists and landscape architects in studying the connection between behaviors and physical characteristics of space.

Instead of the pen-and-paper method that has been used over the decades, the iPad app allows researchers to record a number of interactions in the PlayScapes that indicated the children were gaining skills in science, socialization and physical movement. The app also allowed researchers to upload and e-mail their data onto a shared server location, eliminating the risk of potential loss of data. A backup system built into the application saves all data in the iPad’s memory.

“The development of our app has led to a flexible tool that can be adapted to other research sites, via changes in maps and codes,” says Maltbie.

The UC Evaluation Services Center is an independent evaluation, assessment and research center affiliated with UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services.

The AERA is a national research society that is dedicated to improving education, and to promoting and sharing research into learning. The annual meeting is the largest gathering of scholars in the field of education research. The 2014 meeting is themed, “The Power for Education Research for Innovation in Practice and Policy.”

Read More About UC’s PlayScapes Partnership

Dawn Fuller | EurekAlert!
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