Danielle Keifert is a learning scientist, researcher, and educator on the faculty in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of North Texas’ College of Education. Danielle researches children’s engagement in inquiry, particularly around science-related phenomena. She is interested in how young children orient to moments as inquiry, and the sensemaking resources they draw upon to explore phenomena in the world. These include resources like engaging in imaginative embodiment like imagining being a frog or a creature with feet on the back of your head to explore animal behavior and anatomy, engaging in thought experiments like imagining standing in boiling water or becoming a water particle to explore states of matter and temperature, and even drawing to make sense of engineering challenges. She attends in particular to the sensemaking practices of young children’s families, and explores how young children may be constrained or supported to engage in those practices across home and school settings. Through this work she seeks to broaden participation in science practices, not just by including more individuals from underrepresented communities in science fields, but also by expanding what we understand as science and what we understand as productive for science learning.
Danielle is currently supporting the Representations for Teachers as Learners project (one of several Teachers as Learners projects, funded by the McDonnell foundation), in partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Indiana University (PI: Dr Joshua Danish). Through this project, elementary teachers engage in professional learning to develop greater competence in understanding representational forms and supporting students to engage in modeling in NGSS-aligned classrooms. The two sites (Vanderbilt, Indiana) span a diverse population of students and communities across urban and rural divides, and attending to over 40 languages spoken in homes. The RepTaLs team believes that modeling, as a lynchpin practice, will be particularly productive in supporting teachers to design for equitable learning across these diverse classrooms. The project partners with teacher fellows who first engage in cycles of professional learning through video clubs, and then engage in supporting new teacher partners teachers in the same process over several years. Danielle is particularly excited about the potential to support teachers to recognize and draw upon children’s familiar sensemaking, including language practices, for engaging in inquiry in NGSS classrooms.
While working with Dr. Enyedy at the University of California at Los Angeles (2016-2018), Danielle coordinated the Science through Technology Enhanced Play (STEP) project that partners researchers at UCLA and Indiana University (PIs: Drs. Noel Enyedy and Joshua Danish). She continues to analyze and write about students’ sensemaking in this project. STEP examines how teacher-implemented play-based science units using mixed reality in coordination with motion-sensing technology support first and second graders to learn about complex science phenomena (states of matter, the lives of honeybees). The STEP project at UCLA partnered with the UCLA lab school to support the learning of 125 students representative of the racial/ethnic diversity of the state of California. Danielle particularly enjoyed exploring how students used their bodies to build understanding with each other. Danielle also served as the Associate Director for the Connect Center, a center for research and innovation in elementary education at UCLA. Danielle previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher in partnership with the Exploratorium’s Institute for Inquiry.
Danielle’s dissertation work focused on the Early Learning Across Context project, supported by the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center, an NSF Science of Learning Center. ELAC was designed to attend to young children’s learning across multiple settings. The project followed young children (ages 2-4) across home and preschool classrooms, and partnered with the same families again four years later (ages 6-8) to follow children across home and early-elementary (1st-3rd grade) classrooms. The project captured the diversity and complexity of the social environments within which and through which young children learn. Danielle continues to write about the complexities of children’s inquiry, their sensemaking within structures of family culture, and their experiences moving across home and school settings.
Danielle earned her PhD from the Learning Sciences program at Northwestern University. She also earned a certificate in Educational Sciences as a fellow in the Multidisciplinary Program in Educational Sciences (MPES), an Institute for Education Sciences training program at Northwestern University. Her dissertation committee included Drs. Reed Stevens (chair), Bruce Sherin, and James Spillane.
Before attending Northwestern University, Danielle received her undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College with a special major in Astronomy Education (advisors Drs. Lisa Smulyan and Eric Jensen). During her time at Swarthmore College she worked in the field of public science education at the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia Fels Planetarium, and contributed public astronomy nights hosted by the Physics and Astronomy Department at Swarthmore College. After graduating, Danielle moved to New York City where she taught middle school math and science for five years. Since graduating Northwestern University, Danielle has worked as a learning scientist/post-doctoral research for the Exploratorium (2015-2016), and as a post-doctoral researcher with Dr. Noel Enyedy first at the University of California Los Angeles (2016-2018), and then at Vanderbilt University (2018-present), and is currently an assistant professor on the faculty of Educational Psychology in the College of Education at the University of North Texas. Danielle is also the delighted human of a sweet Tijuana rescue pup who keeps her company during her analysis and writing binges, and reminds Danielle to stop and take a walk on the regular!