Article: Debris, diatoms, and dolphins: tracking child engagement at a public science festival.

What do we know?

  • Science festival environments can provide the opportunity for children to engage in a wide range of activities, however, there had been no research done on tracking child engagement in this type of environment.
  • This study focused on how children decided to engage – both individually and collaboratively – with exhibits in a science festival environment.
  • A variety of factors were discovered that impacted a child’s engagement, including the child’s “attention capacity and goals, the ability to interact with peers and adults during their engagement, and the ability to make choices about engaged in collaborative activities or independent free play.”
  • The study categorized four types of engagement patterns displayed by the children: 1) thoughtful observers who were characterized by high engagement time at exhibits, willingness to wait, and preferences for looking at exhibits, 2) adult engagers who were characterized by high rates of interaction with their adult guardian, 3) peer engagers who were characterized by high rates of interaction with other youth, and 4) travelers passing through who were characterized by low levels of engagement time across all variables.

How do we know?

This study used unobtrusive observation methods by randomly selecting elementary-aged children who had an adult guardian with them to track throughout the festival for a period of 25 minutes (or until the child left the festival area if that came first). The trackers noted each stop at an exhibit and the ways in which the child engaged with the exhibit during the time s/he was there. Trackers also documented who the child interacted with at the exhibit. You can access the Timing and Tracking Protocol used for this study on the www.evalfest.org website.

Where do we go to learn more?

van Beynen, Kaya, and Therea Burress. (2018). “Debris, diatoms, and dolphins: tracking child engagement at a public science festival.” International Journal of Science Education, Part B, 8(4).