Science Learning: How the Young Mind Learns About the World

Educational Challenge: Science education is strongly promoted in preschool and kindergarten, the idea being that early exposure is a predictor for later learning. The problem is that there is no consistency in what should be covered, how exactly it should be covered, and how to measure learning success.

Complexity Theory: The mind continuously decides what to pay attention to, what to ignore, what to remember, and what to forget. It does so by looking at what changes and what stays the same from one moment to the next. This sense-making is by no means fool-proof: Children sometimes pay attention to something irrelevant, or they ignore something that matters. And children sometimes remember something irrelevant, or they forget something that matters.

Our Activities: Preschool teachers have many options of how to bring science into their classroom. We are working on better understanding what kinds of environments help young children develop science-valid beliefs (vs. misconceptions). The precise balance between what changes and what remains the same during children’s explorations is likely to matter.

Implications: An important goal of science education is to help children overcome misconceptions and change mistaken beliefs. Our findings can help shed light on the kind of balance between novelty and stability is ideal towards this goal.