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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
and interpret a series of experimental trials to determine what factors cause a boat to be towed quickly through a canal system, the parents became immersed in the activity, looking up the results of previous trials and expressing their conclusions aloud. Although the parents did support and advance their children’s reasoning, they tended to do the more challenging conceptual parts of the activity, while delegating to the children the logistical components, such as releasing the boat into the canal and operating the stopwatch. As a result, it was the parents and not the children who made the greater gains in understanding the relationship between the boat and the canal system.19
Other researchers have found that parent-child interaction not only can undermine children’s engagement in the more challenging aspect of an activity, but also can lead to misinterpretations of underlying phenomena. Parents can be aided in facilitating their children’s learning by providing them with good lead-in questions, parent guides and similar types of resources, support, and guidance.
To examine more closely the dynamic between a parent and a child at a science museum, consider the following case study from research conducted by Kevin Crowley and Melanie Jacobs at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. The case illustrates how parent-child teams interact and identifies the different types of rhetorical devices used.