Understanding STEM in Early Years!

The big buzz in schools curriculum is the acronym STEM. Lets look at breaking it down, finding out what it really means in the early years. Academically speaking STEM is an acronym for

Engineering and

It is a focus on these areas simultaneously. Not only because the skills and knowledge in each discipline are essential for student success, but also because these skills are deeply intertwined in the real world and in how students learn most effectively.

According to Dr. Sherri Killins, “What STEM does is give a label to what you are already doing… helping children to explore, observe, ask questions, predict and integrate their learning…  its what we’ve always done in early childhood education.”

 What does that really mean to us as parents and teachers? I hear it already, everyone saying, “Oh no, it’s all too much for my children to do as they are only so young”.
Yet STEM can be integrated and fostered into their play from as young as 3 years old. Let’s look at a basic early years STEM activity that can be performed in the classroom with one theme

STEM Activity :

Theme:  Healthy food, where does fruit and vegetables come from?

Grow a tomato plant 

Science – Planting a seed, caring for it to become a tomato plant,

Discussing how a tomato plant will grow, what we need to grow a plant, how do we keep the plant growing healthy, if the seed doesn’t grow then we investigate why? (too much water, too little water, not enough sun, too much and so on, soil or sand)

Key skills:- explore, observe, ask questions, predict, communication, social, writing, motor skills

Technology – Tracking the grow, exploring, reflection

You can use technology to keep track of the tomato plant each week as to how fast it is growing, take pictures upload them to the diary kept. The teacher can do this as a class with a smart whiteboard or even computers, tablets, etc. The diary is important as the teacher can use it as a visual for the students when doing a reflection on the activity that has just been completed talking about what they learnt.

Key skills:- explore, observe, ask questions, predict, communication, social, writing, motor, technology skills

Engineering – Build a structure, construction, best position, expSTEM edxlore, solve problems
Explore the best position for the tomato plant for the amount of sun/shade is needed look around the room and decided where it will grow best. Once the plant is growing can you design a structure with sticks or other materials to make sure it grows tall and doesn’t fall over to get maximum /minimum sun.

Key skills:- explore, observe, ask questions, predict, communication, social, writing, motor skills

Maths – Keep track of the growth, add, subtract, multiply

Lets measure the plants, add the number of days (mm/cm) it took to get a tomatoes, how tall did it grow (+/-), if there is more plants, which one grew faster and why (Science/engineering due to sun or structure or amount of water)
Key skills:- explore, observe, ask questions, predict, communication, social, writing, motor skills
 A Dr Lilian Katz explains STEM as the Distinction between Academic Learning and Intellectual Learning,  she believes it is important to know the distinction between academic learning and intellectual learning….

academic vs intellectual.001The one thing Dr. Lilian Katz points out for parents and teachers is to understand the difference between Academic and Intellectual learning.

According to Dr. Lilian Katz  ‘Academic learning “by definition is the stuff that is clear like the alphabet, it’s no logic, it just has to be memorized… and it does have to be learned eventually.” 

Where as Intellectual Learning “has to do with reasoning,  hypothesizing, and predicting, theorizing, and so forth and that’s natural.” (Lilian Katz on Bam Radio)

Intellectual learning is one of the most important skills to learn and to explore with your students to build their own curiosity, which allows them to solve problems, predict results, issues and build different constructions to make it better. This goes back to the what the early years students are already doing allowing students to ‘explore, observe, ask questions, predict, integrate their learning…’

See how easy it is to integrate STEM into an activity that is in the early years curriculum, look at your current activities in the classroom and home learning. You may find this is already how you teach naturally with including topics with an integrated approach to allow our early years students become the future leaders of tomorrow. Being able to ‘explore, observe, ask questions, predict, integrate their learning…’ as Dr Lilian Katz quotes.

Early years teachers are very innovative with their activities to keep the students engaged to all the topics. They always are looking for ways to develop the last activity to make it even better the next time around they teach.  Lets help them with allowing our children to experiment with everyday activities at home, developing these skills.
Keeping STEM in mind, let’s take time to explore with our children: let’s see if the marble will go faster down the ramp they made and how they can make it faster.

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