CURF 1: Examining how children’s use of math elicitations supports their own math learning

Hello! My name is Kalina McNeil and I am a senior majoring in Psychology with a minor in LGBT and Critical Sexuality Studies. Outside of classes and research, a lot of my time is spent in the University of Pittsburgh Varsity Marching Band playing the tenor saxophone, as well as doing service for the band in one of the service organizations, Kappa Kappa Psi. I love attending recruitment fairs and encouraging incoming students to join the band. 

My research focuses on finding possible ways to support children’s math learning. I work in the Kids’ Thinking Lab, which is a part of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh. I work with my research mentor and primary investigator, Melissa Libertus, and my grad student mentor, Alex Silver. My research specifically focuses on how children seek out math information while playing with their parents and whether they learn from it. Seeking out math information may be one way that children show that they spontaneously focus on number during play. I am looking at times when children prompt their parent for mathematical information during play, specifically in instances when the parent was not previously talking about math. These instances of spontaneous math elicitations may be especially beneficial as they show children are scaffolding their learning experiences by pulling math concepts into the conversation on their own, which may show an increased focus and interest in math learning. I am also interested in learning about predictors that may lead to the use of more of these spontaneous math elicitations. One possibility that I will be looking at is children’s spontaneous focus on number (SFON), or the frequency that children focus their attention on the number of objects in a set on their own, without any outside guidance or prompting, as having higher SFON may mean these children are more attentive to number in their surroundings and therefore elicit more of these spontaneous prompts and questions. This year I am working on completing my Honors Thesis and Bachelor of Philosophy Thesis. 

After graduating in April 2023, I plan to work as either a research assistant or lab manager in a developmental psychology lab relating to children’s science/STEM learning. Following this, I plan on going to graduate school and obtaining a PhD in developmental psychology. My long term goal is to work in museums and create exhibits that encourage science and STEM learning in children, especially in groups underrepresented in these fields (girls and members of the LGBT+ community). Museums are great as they encourage informal learning. The CURF fellowship is allowing me to further expand on my research about children’s math learning in informal environments, which will give me more insights for the studies and exhibits I would like to run in the future. 

Here is a picture of me presenting my research last semester at the Biennial Cognitive Development Society (CDS) Research Conference. I was lucky to be able to present my research at 4 different research fairs last year, and I got to travel to Madison, Wisconsin for CDS!

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