14 SES 11 B, Family Education, Parenting and School-Family-Community Links II
There are several reasons why researchers have an interest in out-of-school learning. For example, some researchers consider ways in which families support children's learning, or ways in which families help prepare children for school. Researchers are also interested in individual differences in out-of-school learning experiences, and in questions of the extent to which classroom learning is affected by differing out-of-school experiences and contexts. Learning in out-of-school contexts is considered by many to be an educational equity issue (Bell et al. 2013), as the ways in which children's experiences outside of school correspond or do not correspond with classroom experience are likely to have important implications for children's levels of success in the classroom.
It can be difficult to research children's out-of-school learning and parental involvement in children's learning outside of school contexts. Interviews with children in a school setting, for example, suffer from the fact that children in classrooms can find it difficult to think outside the classroom context. As Jay & Xolocotzin (2012) report, when researchers ask children "What maths do you do outside of school?" children frequently describe counting money in shops, or weighing flour for baking - not because these are actually activities they necessarily engage with outside of school, but because these are the kinds of 'mathematical' activities that appear in school text books. On the other hand, methods involving visits to family homes, or otherwise accessing home or family activity can be expensive, time-consuming, and intrusive for participants. This paper describes a use of 'cultural probes' - a methodological approach drawn from design research literature - to provide a means to access out-of-school learning in a playful, engaging way.
The use of cultural probes was first reported by Gaver et al. (1999). Used to inform design, a cultural probe is a set of materials designed to stimulate a broad range of responses from participants. They differ from interviews for example, in that there is far less constraint on participants' responses. Since Gaver et al. (1999), cultural probes (and related methods such as mobile probes - managed using mobile technologies including smartphones) have been used to explore participants' conceptions of a variety of phenomena, including neighbourhoods, museum visits, smoking behaviours and learning disabilities.
This paper reports on the use of cultural probes in a study with parents of 8-9 year-olds, to investigate ways in which mathematical thinking and learning takes place in out-of-school contexts, and to encourage parents to explore new ways of supporting children's out-of-school education. This study aimed both to develop new findings regarding out-of-school learning, and to evaluate cultural probes as a methodological approach more broadly, in terms of its potential for educational research.
Bell, P. (2013). Understanding how and why people learn across settings as an educational equity strategy. In Bevan, B., Bell, P., Stevens, R., Razfar, A. (Eds.) LOST Opportunities: Learning in Out-of-school Time. Springer. Gaver, B., Dunne, T., & Pacenti, E. (1999). Design: cultural probes. interactions, 6(1), 21-29. Jay, T., and Xolocotzin, U. (2012). Mathematics and economic activity in primary school children. In Tso,T. Y. (Ed.). In Proceedings of the 36th Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, ed. Tai-Yih Tso, Vol. 2, 331-338. Taipei, Taiwan.
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