THE JOAN GANZ COONEY CENTER AT SESAME WORKSHOP AND NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION JUST RELEASED THEIR STEM STARTS EARLY REPORT, EXPLORING SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATH LEARNING FOR YOUNG CHILDREN. WE HAD THE CHANCE TO ASK LEAD AUTHOR ELISABETH MCCLURE A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT THE REPORT, FOR A THREE-PART BLOG SERIES.
For our third and final installment of our interview, we asked about the practical — how do we implement recent findings on STEM educators?
Q: The report dives into a number of policy and messaging recommendations for better prioritizing STEM in early learning. One obvious constraint is education spending. How can we better integrate STEM, technology in particular, into early learning environments with tight budgets?
McClure: In the early childhood setting, more (and more expensive) technology isn’t always better. In fact, one of the best pieces of technology a teacher can use with very young children is a simple digital camera! Children can use it to record and research bugs and plants they find outside, or document the growth process of plants on the playground. They can take pictures of their body parts and make a puzzle out of them. They can document steps in their daily routine and use the pictures for sequencing activities. The possibilities are endless, and the technology doesn’t have to break the budget.
I think it’s also important to remember that technology isn’t just media or digital media. Technology is about tools and tool use. That can be something as simple as using scissors, or kids figuring out that they need to use a stool to reach something. So, again, this doesn’t need to be an expensive or complicated endeavor. It can be about pointing out to children when they can use a tool to help them meet a challenge they’re facing. So, let’s say a child is trying to get something she can’t reach. Instead of just reaching it yourself and handing it to the child, talk through the situation with her and work through a problem-solving scenario: “Hmmm, let’s stop and think why you might not be able to reach it … Oh, you’re not tall enough? What can we do to make you taller?” And sometimes a child might find a solution like getting a stool, or other times they might surprise you with a really creative solution you hadn’t thought of. So there’s this creative element woven into that problem-solving as well. So by simply scaffolding the child’s critical process during this challenge moment, you’re encouraging math by comparing heights, science by encouraging experimentation, technology by helping her think about tool use, creativity in imagining a solution, and engineering by letting her make her imagined solution into a physical reality. And, on top of all of this, you’re giving her great practice in executive function skills! It’s STEM and so much more.
Q: The report touches on a few examples of holistically integrating STEM into the classroom. Do you have any resources for where teachers can see full lesson plans with tool kits and standards met?
I think a great example of a starting point for teachers or administrators that feel a little uncertain about how to incorporate STEM into their classrooms is this program called STEM from the Start. It’s a series of short videos, supported by PBS, that are meant to be used in the classroom. These video segments are used along with a free teacher guide, which can be downloaded free from the website – and what you do is you show the kids these few minutes of video that get them interested in a STEM question or challenge. Then the teacher follows the teacher guidebook to engage the kids in that STEM activity. After that they return to another follow-up video, etc. It requires very little preparation or expertise on the part of the teacher, and preliminary research is showing that it is really engaging for kids – even those who are English Language Learners or have attention problems. It also is great for teachers who are anxious about teaching STEM and don’t really know where to begin – by walking through the steps in this scaffolded way, it gives teachers an opportunity to experience success and to see how easy it can be to incorporate STEM into their classrooms in an exciting, hands-on, engaging way. It essentially gets their foot in the door so they can start imagining and creating their own ideas. It’s also great because it uses technology that teachers are pretty likely to already have in their classrooms.
We're so thankful to the Cooney Center and Elisabeth for sharing their expertise on STEM with us - and hope y'all got some helpful, creative tips for "engineering" (see what we did there?!) STEM into your daily interactions with little learners.