The Jakarta Post - Magazine - - Education - (Cindee Spies PDGE, MEd.)

Maria in­tro­duces a col­lec­tion of var­i­ous sizes and types of seashells at the na­ture cen­ter in a preschool class­room. She ex­pects chil­dren to ex­plore the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences be­tween the seashells and also be­gin to mea­sure them. Dur­ing the ac­tiv­ity, Maria no­tices that Naomi groups the large seashells to­gether and moves the smaller seashells into a dif­fer­ent pile. Build­ing on Naomi’s in­ter­est in size com­par­i­son, Maria helps her use di­rect com­par­i­son to put six seashells in or­der based on their size. Later, Tony and Jack­son visit the seashell col­lec­tion. They are older than Naomi and have had more ex­pe­ri­ence with mea­sure­ment. For these boys, Maria pre­pares a set of mini sticks and sug­gests they use the mini sticks to mea­sure the length of sev­eral seashells. She even gives them a record­ing sheet (pre­pared ahead of time) so that they can note down their re­sults.

As a trained STEM ed­u­ca­tor, Maria is able to plan lessons with spe­cific out­comes and chil­dren in mind. She un­der­stands the de­vel­op­men­tal path­way for mea­sure­ment con­cepts and where in­di­vid­ual chil­dren in her class are likely to fall in this scale. She re­flects on how to im­ple­ment the ac­tiv­ity with var­i­ous chil­dren as part of her plan­ning.

What is STEM?

STEM is an in­te­grated cur­ricu­lum based on the idea of ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents in four spe­cific dis­ci­plines (Science, Tech­nol­ogy, En­gi­neer­ing and Math­e­mat­ics) in an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary and ap­plied ap­proach. STEM cre­ates the four dis­ci­plines into a co­he­sive learn­ing par­a­digm in which an in­di­vid­ual asks ques­tions, es­tab­lishes re­la­tion­ships and com­mu­ni­cates ideas. This knowl­edge al­lows teach­ers to plan a mul­ti­level cur­ricu­lum that meets the learn­ing needs of a range of chil­dren. The afore­men­tioned ex­am­ple il­lus­trates how in­ten­tional teach­ing guides learn­ing for a range of chil­dren.

Sally Moomaw, EdD (2013) sug­gests that the foun­da­tion of STEM cur­ricu­lum should be­gin in a child’s early years. Dur­ing the early years, chil­dren can de­velop a love for science and tech­nol­ogy and a feel­ing of use­ful­ness for their abil­i­ties, which can sup­port their learn­ing in the year ahead.

Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tors are familiar with the con­cept of an in­te­grated cur­ricu­lum and are ac­cus­tomed to plan­ning in­te­grated ac­tiv­i­ties that re­late to lit­er­acy, math­e­mat­ics and science, as well as en­cour­ag­ing chil­dren’s nat­u­ral cu­rios­ity and prompt­ing them to ask gen­uine ques­tions, which may ex­pand their science learn­ing and lead to­ward dis­cov­ery.

This co­or­di­na­tion of cur­ric­ula is essen­tial to young chil­dren’s learn­ing and lies at the heart of STEM ed­u­ca­tion.

Brain Build­ing for STEM Ed­u­ca­tion

The STEM learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment should be in­ten­tion­ally de­signed to pro­vide brain­build­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for chil­dren. A wellplanned en­vi­ron­ment will pro­vide chil­dren with a se­lec­tion of learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. When such an en­vi­ron­ment is com­bined with in­ten­tional, brain-build­ing learn­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, chil­dren have the best of all worlds. The teacher’s role is to stay on the side­lines as co-learner to of­fer sup­port when needed to help chil­dren de­velop new skills and fa­cil­i­tat­ing in­ter­play be­tween chil­dren and their en­vi­ron­ment. They should never be the only source of in­put and ex­plo­ration for chil­dren, but should be avail­able to chil­dren when they need guid­ance and as­sis­tance with new ideas. Teach­ers must also mas­ter the skill of ex­pand­ing STEM ed­u­ca­tion into daily prac­tice. The Mas­sachusetts Depart­ment of Early Ed­u­ca­tion and Care, United Way of Mas­sachusetts and Mer­ri­mack Val­ley are de­vel­op­ing the brain-build­ing cam­paign that is lay­ing a firm foun­da­tion for STEM ed­u­ca­tion:

Science is ob­serv­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing, mak­ing pre­dic­tions, shar­ing dis­cov­er­ies, ask­ing ques­tions and ques­tion­ing how things work. The ac­tiv­i­ties may in­clude ex­plor­ing wa­ter and sand, com­par­ing and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als like rocks and soil, rolling balls across the room, and look­ing through a mag­ni­fy­ing glass to count how many legs are on an in­sect.

Tech­nol­ogy is us­ing tools, be­ing in­ven­tive, iden­ti­fy­ing prob­lems and mak­ing things work. The ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude com­put­ers and tablets, and also iden­ti­fy­ing sim­ple ma­chines like gears, wheels and pul­leys.

En­gi­neer­ing is solv­ing prob­lems us­ing a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als; designing and creat­ing, and build­ing things that work, which in an early child­hood class­room hap­pens in the block area. There, chil­dren plan and de­sign struc­tures ev­ery day with lit­tle teacher di­rec­tion.

Math­e­mat­ics is se­quenc­ing, pat­tern­ing and ex­plor­ing shapes, vol­ume and size. The ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude sort­ing, count­ing, clas­si­fy­ing, match­ing shapes and mak­ing pat­terns. Mea­sur­ing is doable, es­pe­cially with unit blocks where two of one size equal one of the next size up.

Nowa­days, early child­hood pro­gram at­ten­tion is shift­ing to the im­por­tance of early learn­ing in math­e­mat­ics and science, af­ter more than a decade of in­tense fo­cus on lit­er­acy devel­op­ment. The learn­ing in both of these dis­ci­plines that in­clude the con­nec­tions to tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing is in­te­grated into STEM ed­u­ca­tion.

Teach­ers can ac­com­mo­date cur­ricu­lum goals and learn­ing stan­dards by fo­cus­ing on the con­nec­tions be­tween math­e­mat­ics and science while as­sist­ing chil­dren to com­pre­hend the way math­e­mat­ics and science are re­lated to their daily life.

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