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College of Education > Faculty and Staff Directory > Dr. Heather Toomey Zimmerman

Dr. Heather Toomey Zimmerman

Dr. Heather Toomey Zimmerman
Phone: 8148672654
Office Address:
310E Keller Building
University Park, PA 16802
Campus: University Park


Associate Professor of Education (Learning, Design, and Technology)


Learning and Performance Systems


Learning, Design, and Technology

Other Penn State Affiliations

Center for Pollinator Research, Center for Human Evolution and Diversity


Heather has a Ph.D. in the Learning Sciences from the University of Washington, with degrees in Museum Studies from the University of Washington and Science Communication from Cornell University. In her research, Heather analyzes the social and cognitive practices that people use to learn about science and technology in everyday settings. She studies how multiple learning experiences contribute to the development of scientific knowledge, practices, and affiliations towards (or away) from science. Her interests include parent-child interactions, designing for learning in informal institutions, the role of technology to support learning across settings, and gender issues that intersect with STEM disciplines. Prior to coming to Penn State, Heather worked in museums involved designing and implementing programs for families, youth organizations, and libraries—including an early childhood program called Storybook Science and a community-based program for rural and urban youth.

Areas of Expertise

Age Levels


Curriculum Areas

Science Ed

Individual Difference

Family Processes
Human Development
Learning Processes


Equity and Diversity
Learning Sciences

Methodological Research

Discourse Analysis
Multiple Methods
Qualitative Research

Courses Taught

LDT 505:  Integrating mobile technologies into learning environments

LDT 574 Qualitative research, part II

LDT 576: Design-based research methodology

LDT 583 Learning sciences seminar (co-taught with Dr. Richard Duschl and Dr. Julia Plummer);

LDT 597: Video research methods in the learning sciences

LDT 597: Informal learning research seminar

Education History

Ph.D. in the Learning Sciences, University of Washington M.A. Museology (Museum Studies), University of Washington B.S. Science Communication, Cornell University

Representative Publications

To download these publications and others, go to: or

Zimmerman, H. T., & Weible, J. L. (2017). Learning in and about rural places: Connections and tensions between students’ everyday experiences and environmental quality issues in their community. Cultural Studies of Science Education. 12(1), 7–31. DOI: 10.1007/s11422-016-9757-1.

Weible, J. L., & Zimmerman, H. T. (2016). Science curiosity in learning environments: Developing an attitudinal scale for research in schools, homes, museum, and the community. International Journal of Science Education. 38(8), 1235-1255. DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2016.1186853

Zimmerman, H. T., & McClain, L. R. (2016) Family learning outdoors: Guided participation on a nature walk. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 53(6), 919–942. DOI: 10.1002/tea.21254.

Land, S. M., & Zimmerman, H. T. (2015) Socio-technical dimensions of an outdoor mobile learning environment: A three-phase design-based research investigation. Educational Technology Research & Development63(2), 229-255. DOI: 0.1007/s11423-015-9369-6.

McClain, L. R., & Zimmerman, H. T. (2014). Prior experiences shaping family science conversations at a nature center. Science Education. 98(6), 1009–1032.

Gamrat, C., Zimmerman, H. T., Dudek, J., & Peck, K. (2014) Personalized workplace learning: A digital badging space for science teacher professional development. British Journal of Educational Technology. 45(6), 1136–1148.

Zimmerman, H. T., & Bell, P. (2014). Where young people see science: Everyday activities connected to science. International Journal of Science Education. 4(1), 25-53.  

Zimmerman, H. T., & McClain, L. R. (2014). Intergenerational learning at a nature center: Families using prior experiences and participation frameworks to understand raptors. Environmental Education Research. 20(2), 177-201.

Zimmerman, H. T., McClain, L. R., & Crowl, M. (2013).  Understanding how families use magnifiers during nature center walks.  Research in Science Education. 43(5), 1917-1938.

Zimmerman, H. T. (2012). Participating in science at home: Recognition work and learning in biology. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 49(5), 597-630. 

Zimmerman, H. T., Reeve, S., & Bell P. (2010). Family sense-making practices in science center conversations. Science Education. 94 (3), 478-505. DOI: 10.1002/sce.20374.


  • STEM Pillars: Supporting Rural Communities with Science Stories, Experts, and Inquiry Activities; Institute of Museum and Learning Services; PI. December 2016 – November 2018; Award: $ 588,893.
  • Using a Personalized Genetics and Genealogy Approach to Improve Learning Outcomes in the Health Sciences in Middle School-Aged Youth; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Collaborator; July 2015 - June 2018; Award: $ 343,752. 

  • Collaborative Research: Building Capacity and Collaboration at the Intersection of the Learning Sciences and Informal Science Education; National Science Foundation;  September 2008 to August  2010; Collaborator; Award amount: Total $248,446 ($72,886 Penn State subcontract).


  • Developing a Culturally-Responsive Model for University-Sponsored Summer Camps: Investigating Adolescents’ Learning with a Personalized Genetics and Genealogy Approach; PI. Collaborators: Dr. Nina Jablonski (co-PI), Dr. Elizabeth ‘Biz’ Wright, and Dr. Jennifer L. Shields; April 2017 - April 2018; Award: $13,811.
  • Using iBeacons, Mobile Technologies, and Multi-TouchFoil Displays to Support New Forms of Community Engagement and Learning in Penn State Public Places; Center for Online Innovation in Learning at Penn State University;  Co-PI. Collaborator: Dr.  Susan M. Land (PI), January 2015 - December 2016; Award: $46,50 

  • Tree Investigators: Using Augmented Reality and Mobile Computers Outdoors; Center for Online Innovation in Learning at Penn State University; PI. Collaborator: Dr.  Susan M. Land (Co-PI). January 2014 - June 2015; Award: $19,928

Activities and Honors

  • 2016-2017 Fellowship, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.Project: Designing Educational Supports for Family Learning during Spark!Lab Inventing Activities
  • 2015 AERA SIG-IT Best Paper Award for the paper:  Land, S.M., Zimmerman, H. T., Seely, B. J., Mohney, M., & Dudek, J., Jung, Y. J., & Choi, G.W. (2015). Photo-capture and annotations supporting observations in outdoor mobile learning. 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association: Chicago, IL.
  • 2011-2012 Outstanding Researcher from the Penn State’s College of Education