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1.1: What is STEM?

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    COURSE COMPETENCY 1. Explain the basic concepts of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)

    Criteria 1.1 Identify the guiding principles of STEM.

    Colorful Alphabet blocks spelling "STEM"

    STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math:

    • Science – Observing, making connections, coming to conclusions, and asking questions about how things work. For preschool-age children, science-related learning activities might include exploring water and sand, comparing natural materials like rocks and soil, rolling balls across the room, and looking through a magnifying glass to count how many legs are on the bug that was caught during outdoor play.
    • Technology – Using tools, identifying problems, and trying different solutions. Technology-related learning activities for preschool-age children might include identifying simple machines like gears, wheels, and pulleys. It may also include simple coding, where children learn how to program little robots to do simple tasks.
    • Engineering – Using tools, identifying problems, designing, and creating solutions, and building and inventing things. Engineering activities can happen in the building blocks play area, where preschool-age children plan and design structures every day with little teacher direction.
    • Math – Sequencing, measuring, counting, patterning, exploring shapes, comparing size/weight/volume/height/distance. Math-based learning activities in the preschool classroom include counting, matching shapes, and making patterns. Measuring is easy too, especially with unit blocks where children discover that two of the same-sized blocks equal one of the next size up.

    Teaching STEM provides opportunities for children of all ages to develop 21st-century skills such as:

    • Problem-Solving: STEM learning experiences require children to use critical thinking skills to identify a problem and create solutions.
    • Adaptation: The ability to modify a learned concept to fit a different version of an issue or problem.
    • Creativity and applying knowledge: STEM allows children to master real-world skills through experimentation and doing. Being able to immediately apply newly gained skills is a strong motivator for learning.
    • Decision-making: All four components of STEM can provide opportunities for children to practice assessing options and making decisions based on those assessments.
    • Media and Technology Literacy: It is critically important that children embrace the use of technology at an early age so that they are comfortable with innovative technologies they will be exposed to throughout their lives.
    • Teamwork: STEM learning experiences lend themselves to working together in groups to identify problems and come up with solutions.
    • Risk-taking and experimentation: Learning by experimentation and doing is inherently risky, as the results are initially unknown. Exposure to managed risk-taking allows children to become comfortable with their ability to take risks.
    • Social skills: working in groups promotes social skills such as cooperating, negotiating, listening, following instructions, and turn-taking.
    • Communication skills: To be an effective member of a team, children need to be able to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and discoveries to the group.
    • Resilience: Learning through experimentation and doing will inevitably expose children to failure. STEM learning experiences teach children that making mistakes is a valuable step in learning.

    (Adapted from How to Teach STEM to Preschool Children Through Play)

    Indigenous Perspective

    A holistic approach to education focuses on the interconnectedness of various aspects of learning and personal development, aiming to nurture the whole individual - mind, body, and spirit. Similarly, the perspectives of the Oneida Nation emphasize a holistic worldview, rooted in the interconnectedness of all living beings and the environment. Here are some key similarities between a holistic approach to education and the perspectives of the Oneida Nation:

    1. Interconnectedness: Both perspectives recognize the interconnectedness of all aspects of life. In education, this means understanding that learning is not isolated to academic subjects but also involves physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. In Oneida perspectives, this interconnectedness extends to the relationship between humans, the natural world, and the spiritual realm.
    2. Respect for Diversity: A holistic approach to education values diversity and recognizes the unique strengths and perspectives of each individual. Similarly, the Oneida Nation emphasizes respect for diversity among individuals, communities, and ecosystems, honoring the contributions of each.
    3. Cultural Relevance: Both perspectives prioritize cultural relevance and the integration of traditional knowledge and wisdom into educational practices. For the Oneida Nation, this may involve incorporating traditional teachings, languages, and practices into educational curricula to ensure the preservation and revitalization of cultural heritage.
    4. Community-Centered: Holistic education and Oneida perspectives both prioritize community well-being and involvement in the educational process. In a holistic approach, community engagement fosters collaborative learning experiences and supports the holistic development of individuals within the context of their communities. Similarly, the Oneida Nation emphasizes the importance of community support and collaboration in all aspects of life, including education.
    5. Sustainability: Both perspectives emphasize the importance of sustainability and stewardship of the environment for future generations. Holistic education often includes teachings about environmental responsibility and ecological awareness. Similarly, the Oneida Nation's traditional values include a deep respect for the land and a commitment to living in harmony with nature.

    In summary, a holistic approach to education shares many similarities with the perspectives of the Oneida Nation, as both emphasize interconnectedness, respect for diversity, cultural relevance, community-centeredness, and sustainability. By integrating these principles into educational practices, educators can support the holistic development of individuals while also honoring indigenous perspectives and knowledge systems.

    (OpenAI. (2024). ChatGPT (3.5) [Large language model]. https://chat.openai.com)

    Early Childhood Educators as Co-learners

    Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for early childhood educators to feel unprepared to teach science, technology, engineering, and math. They may be afraid of not knowing the right answers to children’s questions or providing the wrong answer. Developmentally appropriate STEM activities during the early years focus on developing STEM skills, not STEM knowledge. When viewed through this lens, educators become co-learners rather than the source of knowledge.

    Pause to Reflect

    Many adults (including parents and teachers) shy away from science and math because they “aren’t good at it.” How do you feel about science and math? How comfortable are you “teaching” engineering and technology? What are your concerns or questions?

    Important Things to Remember
    • Science, technology, engineering, and math are embedded in children’s daily activities and play and provide a natural vehicle for integrating concepts that cross content areas.
    • Developmentally appropriate STEM activities during the early years focus on developing STEM skills, not STEM knowledge. When viewed through this lens, educators become co-learners rather than the source of knowledge.
    • Educators’ thoughtful guidance and support through inquiry experiences build a foundation for children’s understanding of basic science, technology, engineering, and math concepts, foster a positive approach to learning, and develop learning skills and attitudes necessary for success later in life.
    • Science during the early years is about active learning, not memorizing scientific facts or watching the educator perform science demonstrations. The purpose of science experiences is to nurture children’s habits of inquiry, critical thinking, creativity, innovative problem-solving, open-mindedness, and the motivation to learn.
    • Developmentally appropriate technology activities during the early years are hands-on, with minimal use of screens.
    • Scientific inquiry involves the formulation of a question that can be answered through investigation, while engineering design involves the formulation of a problem that can be solved through design.
    • Learning mathematics grows naturally from children’s curiosity and enthusiasm to learn and explore their environment. During the early years, children continue to show a spontaneous interest in mathematics and further develop their mathematical knowledge and skills related to numbers, quantity, size, shape, and space.

    1.1: What is STEM? is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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