Danielle Keifert is a learning scientist, researcher, and educator currently working as a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. 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 Teachers as Learners project, funded by the McDonnell foundation, at Vanderbilt University in partnership with 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 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 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 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. 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). 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!