Early Childhood Resources Review
Teachers face unanticipated problems every day, especially as schools move between virtual and in-person settings. Authors of Integrating STEM Teaching and Learning into the K–2 Classroom (2020) say that being able to solve problems, including the unanticipated problems of the future, is the goal of science learning and developing this ability begins through STEM learning in early childhood.
This book supports STEM learning as an extension of the language arts and math skills teachers are already teaching, integrating STEM learning into current curriculum by providing students with “a direction for learning” (p. 14), rather than guidance for centering children’s questions in K−2 classroom STEM experiences. The authors use examples of real-world problems to show young children’s competency as problem solvers as they “work to solve in their everyday life” such problems as figuring out how to get a ball out of a tree, yet lesson examples in Chapters 6–9 are based on templates “for curriculum developers and classroom teachers to follow as they set out to develop their own 21st-century STEM experiences…weave their own hands-on, inquiry-focused experiences with more relevant and rigorous tasks using their own content while implementing new standards, practices, and crosscutting concepts as they create STEM units” (p. 39). This tension between following a lesson plan with teacher-created goals, evidence of learning, and essential questions, rather than letting children’s curiosity and questions take the lead, exists in most early childhood programs, where testing and other assessments of student learning may be dictated by local and state criteria and assessment methods.
If implementing any of the activities described by the authors, be sure to review the safety information on page 8 and then make a list of the safety precautions you will take for each activity in each lesson. When following a template, such as the interesting engineering challenge and STEM lesson including measurement in Chapter 2—to “build a wagon with working axles, so that the wheels actually roll, and when tested will travel at least 6 feet rolling down a ramp” (page 40)—use a thoughtful lens to review suggested literature for bias. One of the accompanying literature recommendations, The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh (1954), has racist characterizations of Native people.
You may be tempted to turn directly to the chapters with lesson templates, but don’t skip Chapter 3: “Unpacking the Integrated STEM Classroom.” This chapter describes key elements for STEM teaching: standards, engagement, integration, and assessment, and how they work together. Introducing the Next Generation Science Standards, and in later chapters referencing specific performance expectations, assures readers that developmentally appropriate, rigorous, and research-based standards are used. The section on the NGSS practices of science and engineering is particularly helpful, emphasizing that the “practices are not linear but instead should be used iteratively and often in combination with one another,” and that students don’t engage with every practice during every lesson (p. 48). Implementing advice in this chapter, such as, “Just being told or lectured about a concept does not make it real for the learner” and “Students need to experience it and connect with it to truly comprehend it” (p. 44) will prepare readers to do more than use another teacher’s template. Follow the guidance in this work and use the templates as a beginning point for developing a fully integrated STEM learning environment.
For programs that use emerging curriculum pedagogy, the examples of lesson plans in this work will be valuable for showing how the “M,” “T,” and “S” learning can be integrated with most problem solving your children embark upon. Personal vignettes in teachers’ own words describing how the lessons unfolded in their classrooms and their own journeys into teaching integrated STEM lessons grounds the research. All educators will appreciate the strategies for identifying issues of local importance, grouping students, and providing or withholding materials, and questions for formative assessment (“check-ins”). The authors recognize that “it is difficult to cut short the learning experience when student excitement is at a peak. What fun is it to talk about a problem or generate a solution without the opportunity to try building it? How do you foster persistence, experimentation, and self-reflection if you don’t allow time for solution improvements?” (p. 53). The authors convey an attitude that “failing forward” builds resilience and fortitude, and “teaches students that it is OK to take chances and learn something new even if it is not successful.” Taking on this attitude will help teachers new to STEM not judge themselves too harshly as they begin to teach science concepts and engineering design and integrate them into their current curriculum to build their students’ ability to solve problems.
Peggy Ashbrook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of Science Learning in the Early Years: Activities in PreK–2 and teaches preschool science in Alexandria, Virginia.