Teo is interested in understanding how lines of experience can and should inform learning designs. In much of this work, this lens is taken up in the form of understandings children’s experiences engaging in inquiry to understand their world across divers settings (ELAC, STEP). This work privileges families as a primary context of learning, but also examines how to broaden participation in science learning across multiple settings. Dr. Keifert construes broadening participation efforts as twofold: (1) engaging children from underrepresented non-dominant communities in science and (2) broadening the forms of participation and sensemaking that are recognized as productive for science learning. This second form of broadening participation requires both improving understanding of children’s everyday sensemaking practices and building opportunities for children to draw upon those practices in designed learning environments. Broadening participation efforts, however also require engaging with in-service and pre-service teachers, or others who engage with children (e.g., pre-service social workers). In this work, Teo draws on the same principles in designing for young children’s learning; adults like children must be supported to draw upon their own experiences and practices to make sense of new ideas and inform future sensemaking and practice (RepTaLs, PiP). How this is accomplished is further articulated in the projects listed below.

Current Projects

Learning, Being, and Doing (LBD) in Families Study

PI: Teo (Danielle) Keifert

Image of the shadow of a young child holding the hands of an adult.

Families are a privileged site for learning because of extensive time together (Bransford et al. 2005; Ochs et al., 2019) especially before children start formal schooling (Rogoff, 2003) and despite popular narratives of learning-loss (Goldstein, 2020; Callimachi, 2021). Learning Sciences research has much to offer, yet most prior partnerships focus on transforming designs rather than transforming research to support families to represent their existing practice. This project, funded by a Spencer Foundation Small Grant and launching Spring 20222, reimagines studies of children’s lived experience (Rogoff et al., 2018) to explicitly examine power/learning relationships (Philip et al., 2018) through a syncretic method merging research traditions with everyday practices (Gutiérrez & Jurow, 2016). This work centers families’ existing repertoires for storying their lives—documenting, reflecting, and sharing theories (e.g., Ochs et al., 1992) to develop an ethically valid approach (attending to distribution of research materials, resources, practices) creating more ecologically valid representations of learning (based in families’ knowledge systems). I wonder: How can existing practices support young children and caregivers to represent their own learning, contextualize learning within their family culture, and co-develop theory?  This work will contribute to expanding equitable forms of research in the Learning Sciences (Bang & Vossoughi, 2016) and contributing robust theories of lifelong and culturally diverse learning.

Positionality in Practice (PiP)

PI: Teo Keifert

The Positionality in Practice project is a design-based research project (Design-Based Research Collective, 2003) that examines how to support undergraduate and graduate student learning for pre-service teachers, social workers, early childcare, and future researchers providers to prepare to understand how their own positionality and the positionality of their students/clients impacts their professional practice. Positionality is a term developed within research practice that describes the work by researchers to articulate their particular relationship and role within a research study. It has recently been taken up by in practice in the support of educators-in-training to develop an articulation of the role of their intersectional identity and prior experience in their current/future practice. This project seeks to explore learning environment designs that can support students, both undergraduate and graduate students, to develop positionality statements to inform their practice (e.g., undergraduate pre-service teachers, graduate students engaging in research) and support their future job application processes. Analysis examines the following questions: (1) What activities support students’ to engage in conversations about their positionality as it relates to their practice (teaching, service, research)? (2) How can writing assignments support student sensemaking to articulate the role of their positionality in their practice (teaching, service, research)? (3) How do articulations of the role of positionality in practice support students’ sensemaking about key course concepts and skills? Dr. Keifert is currently collecting pilot data in this project to inform future iterations of learning designs.

Representations for Teachers as Learners (RepTaLs)

PI: Joshua Danish

Teo 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 (Co-PIs: Noel Enyedy, Heather Johnson, Andrea Henrie, Heidi Carlone) and Indiana University (PI: Dr Joshua Danish). The project team at IU has created this site to share our work on the project. 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. Teo 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. The VU team (including Drs. Teo Keifert, Rachel Askew, and Ashlyn Pierson) is now focused on revising professional learning sequences to support K-4 teachers to make space for, notice, and cultivate students’ diverse linguistic and cultural repertoires in their teaching practice.

Science Through Technology Enhanced Play (STEP)

PI: Noel Enyedy

Photo credit: Christine Lee

While working with Dr. Enyedy at the University of California at Los Angeles (2016-2018), Teo coordinated the Science through Technology Enhanced Play (STEP) project that partners researchers at UCLA and Indiana University  (PIs: Drs. Noel Enyedy and Joshua Danish). Dr. Keifert 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 combined 1st/2nd grade classrooms 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. Teo particularly enjoyed exploring how students used their bodies to build understanding with each other.

Teo analysis of STEP data examined the intertwined roles of affect, agency, and embodiment within sociodramatic play, the role of developing collaborative embodied choreographies as students engage in inquiry, and how prior experiences are intertwined with the experiences of being student-particles in STEP. Dr. Keifert was particularly excited to examine how a designed learning setting can support embodied sensemaking as a central resource for learning about complex science phenomena.

Early Learning Across Contexts

PI: Reed Stevens

A pictorial representation of Catherine (age 2y 11m) exploring how a thermometer works with her dad as her brother, Stuart (age 5y 11m) plays with oil residue on the water’s surface.

ELAC was a longitudinal study of young children’s learning and practices across settings that was funded by the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center, a NSF Science of Learning Center. The ELAC team of researchers collected video data of naturally occurring interactions across families (homes, yards, parks, zoos, stores) and classrooms (classrooms, gyms, playgrounds, parks). Teo analyzed both phases of data of the same children over time, first in the preschool phase when children were ages 2-4, and then the early-elementary phase when children were ages 6-8. Dr. Keifert also designed and collected the early-elementary phase data, incorporating participant-collected video and reflection-interviews in addition to ethnographic-video recordings of naturally occurring activity. Teo authored and co-authored multiple conference papers and presentations and wrote a dissertation focused exclusively on the ELAC project along with several manuscripts currently in preparation and published journal articles.

In her writing, Teo has developed a conceptualization of inquiry as a members’ pheonomenon. This conceptualization of inquiry captures a range of young children’s activity in families, shedding light on the diversity of sensemaking resources that children draw upon to better understand their world. Dr. Keifert has also developed methods for tracing sensemaking practices within families to build understanding of family culture, and has developed ways of capturing diverse forms of interaction (sensemaking practices, activities, demonstrable values) in relation to each other across settings as young children draw upon family inquiry practices in preschool classrooms. This works helps explore how children come to experience the world in particular ways. Teo’s current efforts on the project focus on conceptualizing a unit of analysis for understanding how family practice are and are not supported in preschool interactions (article under review).

To learn more about Dr. Keifert’s published work, please visit her Publications page.