Does the way you learn affect the way you teach?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Discovery Center

    When learning something new, we often pay attention to how we are taught as well as what we are taught. People recognize when someone intends to teach, and that impacts how important they think a teacher’s actions are. Thus, children and adults will imitate the actions of a teacher even if these actions are clearly not needed to complete a task. We are interested in understanding how children understand teaching, by looking at how children who are taught then choose to teach others.

    In this study, children (ages 4 - 6 years) will learn how to get a sticker out of a puzzle box. A researcher will teach some children how to solve the puzzle; other children will be given time to explore the puzzle box and learn to retrieve the sticker on their own. Children will then be asked to teach a different researcher, or a puppet, how to get a sticker from the box.

    We predict that children who were taught and children who learned to get the sticker on their own will teach others differently. We think that children who were taught by the researcher will pay attention to, and place a high value on teaching, so we predict that children that were taught how to use the puzzle box will mimic their teacher’s way of teaching, including both necessary and non-necessary actions to get the sticker. We expect that children who learn how to get the sticker on their own will teach others to do so in varying ways, helping us understand children’s natural ideas about teaching others.

    This study will add to our understanding of how children think about teaching and how they learn to teach. This understanding could also help professional educators become better teachers.

    Ronfard, S., Was, A. M., & Harris, P. L. (2016). Children teach methods they could not discover for themselves. Journal of experimental child psychology, 142, 107-117.

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by the Paul Harris Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

        » Paul Harris Laboratory

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Now Show Me

    Observe your child interacting with one of the Discovery Center staff or volunteers. Everyone has their own particular teaching style and questions they like to ask. After they’ve finished talking, ask your child to show you what s/he learned. What did your child learn about the topic? What did s/he learn about how to explain the topic?

    Activities to Try at Home

    That was Bad, Teddy!

    The next time you and your child are playing pretend, use the game as an opportunity to explore what s/he has learned about good behavior and discipline from you. Pretend that your character has done something bad (perhaps something your child has recently learned not to do). Observe how your child explains to your character why what s/he did was wrong. How is your child’s explanation like the one you gave? How is your child’s explanation different?

    Teacher Reflection

    Ask your child about his or her favorite teacher. Encourage him or her to think about why that teacher is his or her favorite. This explanation may not focus on teaching or learning. If not, ask your child about who is the best at helping him or her learn things. Encourage your child to think about why s/he picked this person. How is this explanation different? Does your child explain things to you in the way s/he likes to have things explained?

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff:

livinglaboratory@mos.org