White House Showcases I-LABS Research at Early STEM Event

I-LABS co-directors Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl have been invited to discuss their research at a White House event on early learning and STEM.

Meltzoff holds the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Endowed Chair at UW, and Kuhl holds the Bezos Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning.

The April 21 event, convened by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Early Learning, reflects a growing national interest in focusing on the early years as a critical time to foster children's interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Follow updates on Twitter: @UW_ILABS and #STEMstartsEarly. A video of the kickoff session of the event, which includes Kuhl, is posted on the White House website.

Children's natural-born curiosity and eagerness to learn are traits that are essential for STEM careers, a growing and well-paid workforce.

Discoveries from I-LABS provide a strong case for why the early years are the best time to set a strong foundation in STEM among all children.

In his talk at the White House, Meltzoff will discuss work demonstrating how stereotypes deter girls from computer science and math, even if those stereotypes are inaccurate. Meltzoff's research with I-LABS and UW collaborators shows that:

• Popular stereotypes of computer science being for "geeky" guys who just sit at computers writing code all day discourage girls from pursuing computer science. (Download the scientific article.)
• Simply changing the design of a computer science classroom—replacing science fiction posters with nature and art posters—led girls to be three times more likely to be interested in taking a computer science class. (Download the scientific article.)
By second grade, children already believe the inaccurate stereotype that boys are better at math, which may make girls think "Why try math if I'm not going to be good at it?" (Download the scientific article.)

The I-LABS research taps into STEM disparities, such as fewer women being drawn into computer science and related disciplines. Meltzoff and his collaborators talk about this issue in an April 26 opinion piece in the Washington Post.

"Society is missing out on new ideas and females are missing out on high-paying and interesting jobs," Meltzoff said. "We’re focused on tracing these disparities back to their origins and have discovered that as early as second grade girls begin to 'catch' societal stereotypes about who does math and computer science."

Meltzoff and other researchers are now working on effective treatments to try to help address this issue, he said.

In a separate talk, Kuhl will present her findings on the brain science of how young children learn. Kuhl’s talk, in the initial session of the event, will lay the groundwork for learning. She intends to describe how powerful the ages of zero to 5 years are for learning, and how the social brain and children’s innate curiosity drive learning in the early period.

Children’s extraordinary capacities to learn during this time raise a social justice issue, Kuhl will tell the attendees.

“Children’s brains need opportunities to learn early in life – they have to have sensory and cognitive stimulation. If those opportunities don’t exist, learning doesn’t take place,” Kuhl said.

"Children’s social brains cause them to want to fit in, and that means children pay attention to how others they perceive to be like them are treated. Children can absorb cultural stereotypes very early in development," Kuhl added.

The event at the White House brings together national leaders in research, education and policy to showcase research on early learning and STEM and identify ways to improve early STEM learning practices.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King and Roberto J. Rodríguez, deputy assistant to President Obama on education, will give opening remarks at the event.

"The President recognizes the importance of exposing all of our learners to STEM experiences," Rodríguez recently wrote in a White House blog post, "Supporting our youngest innovators: STEM starts early!"

Rodríguez continued: "In his State of the Union address earlier this year, the President challenged all of us to provide every student with authentic STEM experiences to learn subjects like science, math, and computer science."

More I-LABS Research on Early STEM Learning

How Do Preschoolers Start Learning Science?
Read news release
Download the scientific articles in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology and Frontiers in Psychology

Learning By Watching, Toddlers Show Intuitive Understanding of Probability
Read news release
Download the scientific article
Watch video, read media coverage of this research

Math and Me: Children Who Identify With Math Get Higher Scores
Read news release
Download the scientific article

Gender Stereotypes About Math Develop as Early as Second Grade
Read news release
Download the scientific article

Do Female Teachers Help Girls Overcome STEM Stereotypes?
Read the I-LABS story
Download the scientific article

Photo: Wikimedia