Monday, June 3, 2019

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What is STEM? What is Preschool STEM?

What is STEM? How is Preschool STEM unique? How should you "teach" preschool STEM?

Have you ever wondered these questions? I am beginning a series full of preschool STEM projects today, but before I get started I think it is super important to address these questions--partly because they are intrinsically important and partly because I have been asked them so many times by parents that I believe there is a need to discuss them.

STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics. It represents integrating instruction and experiences in these subjects so that children are comfortable and experienced scientists and engineers.  STEM education is not new (it has actually been around for more than 30 years), but it became a buzz word in education after 2006 when the United States National Academies recommended an increased focus and emphasis on these subjects in our schools and colleges. As more organizations and educators have raised the rally cry, we have seen a lot of really great programs and ideas surface. Unfortunately, this has created a little bit of stress as some educators and parents want to make sure their children are getting a STEM education too, but are not really sure what it even is!

Older children use technology and math to explore science and engineer new solutions. Preschoolers can do this too! Older children can use technology like microscopes, computers, coding software and mathematics like algebra and trig to solve problems. Preschoolers use math and technology that helps them explore and create things on their own, personal levels! The simplicity of their STEM experiences should never be mistaken for ineffectiveness.

That is SO important...I'm going to say it again: The simplicity of preschoolers' STEM experiences should never be mistaken for ineffectiveness.

Preschoolers are natural scientists and engineers. They LOVE to build, explore, experiment, and create. The real problem is that we, as adults, often chase the little scientists out of them! We don't like to clean up messes, sort supplies, and re-order their chaos, but what we often fail to notice is that in the midst of what looks like a big mess is an experiment or a creation. This is one of the ways that preschool STEM can happen.

Preschool STEM happens in two ways

1- The preschooler creates the STEM experience all on her own. These are the messes that scare us! These are the experiments and masterpieces your children create without permission. Sometimes they seem wonderful even to us! These are moments when your preschoolers are learning what their limits are, what they can create themselves, what kinds of problems they can solve, when they need help, how to experiment, and how to communicate about those experiments. These can happen indoors or outdoors, though it is usually less stressful for adults when it happens outside.  

Here is an example of this kind of STEM experience
We walked down to a creek a few days ago. My preschoolers wanted to build a mountain with the rocks they found on the side of the creek. They hunted for the best shape, they experimented with the way they stacked them, they un-stacked and re-stacked until they found just the right design, and then they took pictures of it with my phone. Science skills they used were problem solving, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing, concluding, and communicating. My phone was technology they used. The tower was an engineering design. Math skills they used included counting rocks. Science and math topics they explored subjectively included force, gravity, mass, and balance. 

Do you see? All four subjects are integrated into one project that they came up with on their own.

2- The second way Preschool STEM happens is when an adult or teacher creates a situation that invites the preschooler to engage in a STEM project. It is usually either a challenge you specifically give your children or a set of supplies you provide that they use to create something.

Here is an example of this kind of STEM experience:
In this post I share how I created a science station with a bin of beans, a few shells, and several beakers and graduated cylinders. I did not give my preschoolers any instructions on how to use the supplies or what they should do.They spent over an hour on the first day experimenting with filling the beakers and cylinders with beans, pouring the beans, scooping with their hands, scooping with the beakers and cylinders, and scooping with the shells, and much more. Science skills they used included observing, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing, forming conclusions, and sharing what they found. Technology (or tools) they used were the graduated cylinders, beakers, and shells. They engineered several towers, a "city," and (over the next several days) dozens of things that I lost track of! Math concepts they experienced included mass, weight, size, and measurement.

Again, all four subjects are integrated into one project that they designed on their own. I gave them the supplies, and they decided what to do. 

One very important aspect of STEM is that there should not be one pre-designated outcome. Imagine if a professional scientist began a study with the intent to achieve specific results!  Or if you commissioned an engineer to solve a problem, but then told him how to do it! There is always a time and place to teach our children to follow step by step instructions, but a STEM activity is not that time! We want to make sure our preschoolers have the room to explore and experiment without feeling like they are "doing it wrong."

To help with this I am sharing a Preschool STEM Project every day this week and next week!  You can use them for a daily STEM activity, a summer camp, or even use them next year by creating a science center with the supplies for each one, and leaving those supplies out for two-four weeks!

Because of the open-ended nature of STEM projects, your older kids may enjoy doing them too! Just click HERE to see the collection going up each day!

And if you have any questions about preschool STEM, shoot me an email...I'd love to help!

Happy Educating,

Have you seen HEEP? It is a preschool homeschool curriculum! Learn more here!

I may share at any of these parties!

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