New report on STEM in the Early Years

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essential_5thTEC Center’s director, Dr. Chip Donohue, contributed to a new report,“Early STEM Matters: Providing High-Quality STEM Experiences for All Young Learners,” on STEM in the early years, published in January 2017. Dr. Donohue helped to guide the Early Childhood STEM Working Group’s discussions about the role of the T in STEM in early childhood.

We hold that the “T” in STEM—technology—should be considered differently from the other disciplines. Technology is not a content area to be studied by young children but rather an important tool that can support learning in the STEM disciplines and across the curriculum.

Technology in STEM is defined in the report by Chip Donohue, PhD as:

We define technology broadly to mean anything human-made that is used to solve a problem or fulfill a desire. Technology can be an object, a system, or a process that results in the modification of the natural world to meet human needs and wants. From our perspective, technology in the classroom, in informal learning environments, and at home includes both analog tools such as a pencil or a wooden block, and digital tools, including tablets and digital cameras, microscopes, tangible technology, and simple robotics. In the digital age, the focus has become new screen-based technologies and interactive media. However, in the context of STEM, educators need to consider all the ways they use technology as a tool for learning and the affordances of new digital tools that make it possible for a child to move from media consumer to media creator.

The report is the culmination of two years of work by the Early Childhood STEM Working Group, which was co-organized by Erikson Institute and UChicago STEM Education at the University of Chicago. With the report, the working group, which includes scholars, policy makers, curriculum developers, and educators from across the United States, aims to inform the public discussion around STEM experiences in the early years.

In the report, the working group identifies four guiding principals that serve to shape future actions and decisions around STEM in early childhood:

  1. Adult supervision is necessary to help guide children through their STEM experiences and support their natural curiosity.
  2. Discussion and visual representation, such as drawing and writing, must be a part of STEM education.
  3. Building adults’ confidence in STEM concepts is important to shaping children’s own attitudes toward STEM.
  4. Culture, race, and socio-economic status influence children’s STEM experiences.

These guiding principals inform the working group’s six recommendations for improving early STEM experiences:

  1. Through advocacy and messaging, raise awareness about the importance of access to high-quality STEM education for all children.
  2. Improve STEM-related teacher preparation and ongoing professional development.
  3. Involve parents in their children’s STEM experiences by offering initiatives and resources that encourage their participation outside the classroom.
  4. Develop resources and offer guidance to support educators’ efforts to implement STEM experiences in the classroom.
  5. Make sure that educational standards at the state level explicitly address STEM disciplines.
  6. Establish a long-term research agenda to shape ongoing support for and development of early childhood STEM education.

Several members of the Early Childhood STEM Working Group were invited to the White House last spring to participate in a symposium on STEM in early childhood, along with members of Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative and Technology in Early Childhood Center Director Chip Donohue, Ph.D., who also served as a member of the working group.