Open-Ended Play With Magnetic Unit Blocks: The Educational and Collaborative Impact of Modular Mighty Magz on 4-6 Year-Old Children
The goal of this study was to investigate whether young children’s collaborative play and learning about magnetism could be enhanced by open-ended play with an innovative type of magnetic unit blocks that teachers could use in conjunction with an explicit lesson about magnetism. This research was completed as part of a dual thesis: the BXA Capstone Project and the H&SS Honors Thesis. The BXA Capstone Project was dedicated to the design and construction of the toy: Modular Mighty Magz. The H&SS Honors Thesis was dedicated to the experimental evaluation of the educational and collaborative impact of Modular Mighty Magz. The four-year-olds and kindergarten children at the Carnegie Mellon Children’s School participated in four different assessments. Children were given a three part pre- and post-test interview that asked questions about magnets and magnetic fields, magnetic poles, and magnetic versus non-magnetic objects. Between the pre- and post-test interviews, the children’s teachers did a group lesson about magnetism during circle time and then gave the children time in groups of four to play with either Modular Mighty Magz or a common magnet toy, Mega Magz, in a separate room for 15 minutes. The play time was used to determine the collaborative impact of Modular Mighty Magz versus Mega Magz. A 2 (age [four-year-olds/kindergarten]) x 2 (toy [Modular Mighty Magz/Mega Magz]) mixed design ANOVA was conducted for all four of the dependent measures. Overall the results showed that every child improved, with kindergartners performing better than the four-year-olds, between the pre- and post-test interviews on the magnet and magnetic field questions and magnetic pole questions. This demonstrated the creation of an effective teacher lesson. There was a three-way interaction between age, toy used, and the magnetic versus non-magnetic object questions. It was determined that the four-year-olds did not improve on this test or have any benefit in which toy they used. However, the children who were given Modular Mighty Magz and were in kindergarten had a significant improvement in responses to these questions whereas those who got the Mega Magz did not improve on their scores. Children in both age groups spent significantly more time collaborating with the Modular Mighty Magz than with the Mega Magz. Thus, the teacher lesson effectively taught the children concepts of magnetism. Even with only a fifteen minute play session, the materials I designed, Modular Mighty Magz, were more effective than an existing toy in improving concepts for the kindergartners regarding magnetic versus non-magnetic objects and in promoting collaboration for all ages.