tual tasks, delegating manual tasks to the children. Furthermore, there was little emphasis on science talk or thinking by parents and staff. Callanan, Jipson, and Soennichsen (2002), observing dyads at a science exhibit, noted that parents focus on specific events rather than general principles. They suggest, but do not explore empirically, that this may set the stage for more complex thinking. Parents who have experience in science may be comfortable enough to use the exhibits as props for sharing their knowledge on a particular topic. For example:
One father described how he used Pulley Table to explain and demonstrate to his son: “Well, mostly I was explaining to my son what it was doing. Showing him that—for instance, there was one pulley that powered and the difference in putting the string on the smaller wheel as compared to the larger wheel, what it does to the other wheels…. Another boy walked up as well, and so I showed them the faster you turn it, the faster it plays, depending on the size of the pulley you use will also determine the power” (Case 24, male, early 40s) (Tisdal, 2004, p. 12).
Parents’ conversations also depend on what they believe about the setting in relation to their children’s learning. For example, Schauble et al. (2002) observed 94 parents of children ages 6-10, as well as 16 museum staff interacting with children at an exhibit in a science gallery. The researchers also conducted interviews to find out the beliefs about learning of each group and what each thought would help children’s learning at the exhibit. Nearly half the parents believed that activity, observing, and fun with hands-on materials would lead to learning through sensory experience and excitement; many of these parents sat back and watched their children play, believing that the best assistance was to keep out of their way. Other parents seemed to distinguish play from learning and wondered about how learning could be enriched by resources in the museum. They tended to be less sure about how to assist their children. The museum staff were more likely than parents to value adult mediation (getting involved in children’s activities), and some were critical of parents they perceived as passive. The staff talked about a variety of different ways to help children learn and emphasized asking them provocative questions or explaining how things work, compared with the parents’ more frequent focus on logistical forms of help. The researchers point out that the staff’s larger repertoire of assistance techniques presumably results from their experience in deciding how to mediate visitor experiences on a daily basis in the gallery.
Not all forms of talk are equally effective supports for science learning in designed settings. For example, Crowley and Jacobs (2002) showed that higher levels of certain kinds of talk by parents were associated with