Understanding How Families Use Magnifiers During Nature Center Walks

Heather Toomey Zimmerman, Lucy Richardson McClain, Michele Crowl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


This analysis uses a sociocultural learning theory and parent-child interaction framework to understand families' interactions with one type of scientific tool, the magnifier, during nature walks offered by a nature center. Families were video recorded to observe how they organized their activities where they used magnifiers to explore in the outdoors. Findings include that families used magnifiers for scientific inquiry as well as for playful exploration. Using the concept of guided facilitation where families develop roles to support their joint endeavor, three roles to support family thinking were found to be: (a) tool suggester, (b) teacher, and (c) exploration ender. Some families struggled to use magnifiers and often, parents and older siblings provided support for younger children in using magnifying lenses. Implications to informal science learning theory are drawn and suggestions for future family learning research are offered: (a) inclusion of sociocultural and situated perspectives as theories to study informal learning in outdoor spaces, (b) further study on the role of siblings in family interactions, (c) design-based research is needed to encourage family role-taking when engaging in science practices, and (d) new conceptualizations on how to design informal programs that support science learning while leaving space for visitors' personal agendas and interests that can guide the families' activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1917-1938
Number of pages22
JournalResearch in Science Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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