Whether stacking blocks to construct a model city, designing ways to preserve leaves found on the way to school, or lining up by height in the classroom, children demonstrate a clear readiness to engage in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning early in life. While early childhood educators are often excited about supporting STEM learning, they aren’t always aware of all the STEM opportunities that can be cultivated in the things they already do with young children inside and outside the classroom.
To address this, NYSCI and Bank Street College of Education are collaborating with teams of educators from P.S. 28 and P.S. 330 in Queens to pilot the “Active STEM Learning in the Early Childhood Classroom” professional development program. As we embark on this new partnership, here’s three things that we hope our school partners take away from this experience.
Recognizing STEM Learning in the Everyday
A major goal of this project is to provide early childhood educators with opportunities for noticing the STEM learning that is already happening in their classrooms. Anytime students are asking and answering their own questions, imagining solutions to problems, or exploring the properties of materials, there is a foundation for STEM learning. Throughout this project, NYSCI and Bank Street coaches will guide our school partners in observing their students and reflecting on these observations. Participants will use a newly developed observation tool that we hope will give them a new “lens” for looking at their students’ thinking. Through observation and reflection, we’ll start to identify moments when students are already engaging in STEM thinking in order to build off these successes to provide additional contexts for STEM learning.
New Ideas for Familiar Materials
Many people think STEM requires specialized tools or constant access to digital technology, but even the simplest materials can foster deep thinking. During the guided classroom observations, as well as a series of hands-on workshops at NYSCI, we’ll be exploring different uses for materials that are readily available in early childhood classrooms. Something as simple as paper can be used to construct a model house, create a glider, or make a shadow scene. By thinking about how we invite students to explore the properties of materials and consider how these properties can affect the way we use these materials, we’re able to find new life in materials we use every day.
Increased Collaboration at Multiple Levels
Not only is this project a collaboration between NYSCI, Bank Street, and our partner schools, we’re also hoping to increase collaboration across school teams. Each school team consists of two kindergarten teachers, two first grade teachers, and one science cluster teacher. In many early childhood settings, there is limited time and support for collaboration among classroom teachers and science specialists. Through this project, we hope to provide our partners with space and resources needed to create an increased culture of collaboration that lasts after the project has ended.
As the project continues throughout this academic year, we’ll use future posts to share what we’re learning from one another, including strategies and tools that we hope other educators can use to support the active STEM learning in their own early childhood classrooms.
– Dorothy Bennett and Michaela Labriole.