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Learning Science and Engineering from Videos and Games: A Randomized Trial of PBS KIDS The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That

Thu, April 8, 11:35am to 1:05pm EDT (11:35am to 1:05pm EDT), Virtual


Research indicates that early science experiences can help young children develop important critical thinking and language skills and a foundational understanding of science and engineering that will help them later in life. However, many young children have limited opportunities to explore science and engineering at home or in preschool settings (Greenfield et al., 2009; Piasta, Pelatti, & Miller, 2014). The substantial amount of time children spend using media outside of school could be an opportunity to help children engage in science and engineering. However, little is known about the effects of media on young children’s understanding of science.

This study examines whether providing young children with access to science and engineering media resources can help them learn. We focused our study on videos and digital games from The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™.

Four primary research questions guide the study:
What is the impact of providing eight weeks of access to The Cat in the Hat resources on low-income 4- to 5-year-old children’s understanding of:
1. physical science concepts and science and engineering practices;
2. the role of material properties (strength and length) and forces in structural stability;
3. the role of material properties (texture) and forces (friction) on movement down an incline;
4. how objects can be sorted based on their material properties and uses.

Researchers randomly assigned 454 four- and five-year old children from low-income households in five U.S. states to receive either intervention resources or an alternative treatment. Families in the treatment group received an Internet-enabled tablet computer with videos, digital games, and hands-on activities that focused on physical science and engineering skills and practices. Control group children received a data-enabled tablet and researchers asked caregivers to have their children use any educational videos and games on the tablet. Researchers asked both groups to use their materials for about one hour each week (see Table 1).

Researchers collected information on children’s science and engineering knowledge prior to random assignment using Lens on Science, an externally developed, validated science assessment. Researchers assessed children at the end of the study using:
(1) a modified version of Lens on Science focusing on physical science and engineering knowledge, and
(2) Hands-On Preschool Assessments of Physical Science and Engineering—researcher-developed performance-based assessments.

Researchers used multivariate linear regression to examine the impact of the intervention, controlling for children’s baseline science scores.

The study found that providing children with 8 weeks of access to the intervention resources had meaningful impacts on 4- to 5-year-old children’s physical science knowledge and their ability to engage with science and engineering practices (see Table 2).

The results of this study indicate that educational media designed to focus on critical science and engineering concepts and skills can help young children understand science and engineering concepts and practices and that children’s experiences manipulating materials in a digital context can transfer to understanding of those practices and concepts in the physical world.