After earning an undergraduate degree in philosophy and economics, Samuel Ronfard spent time teaching children with special needs.
“It was the hardest job I ever had, but also the most rewarding,” Ronfard says.
While teaching, he became interested in why some children have an easier time learning than others, and decided to pursue further education in both developmental psychology and education. As a post-doctoral fellow, he worked on the Evolving Minds project. There, he used cognitive science research to teach sophisticated science concepts, such as evolution, to first- and second-graders, using storybooks.
Ronfard is one of only a handful of cognitive development specialists at UTM. “You get exposed to lots of different perspectives here and it forces you to think about what you do in different ways. The department is one of the best in the world, and the resources are here to do great research.”
His research investigates how children learn difficult-to-comprehend concepts and ideas – specifically, those that might counter their intuition or perception (for example, the fact that the Earth is round and that invisible entities called germs cause disease).
“Children are reliant on what people tell them, but how do they decide it’s true?” Ronfard asks. “As they get older, they can test what they are told, but do they? How does their thinking develop? How do children gather information to build knowledge about things they can’t explain on their own and can’t directly experience?”
Ronfard has recently set up his research lab and is looking forward to mentoring students. “I’m trying to develop students who understand research as a process,” he says. “I want them to think about research as an ongoing conversation about why things are the way they are.
“I feel very grateful to go to work every day,” he notes. “I get to pursue questions I’m interested in with people who share those interests.”