Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. That’s what our children need to survive and succeed in today’s world. We’re behind many other countries when it comes to successfully teaching and implementing STEM, and that means the starting point is right in my lap. Preschoolers. They have an insatiable appetite for anything that has real moving parts. They want to make it work and know why. The key word is ‘real’, because something real is always better than any toy.
How do I transfer those real experiences into STEM? This month we have been ‘scientists’, using accurate terms like estimating, predicting, and hypothesis. We did a classic activity of putting white carnations into colored water to see if the flowers would change colors; the difference was incorporating and learning the correct scientific language. We have brought nature into the classroom; all the elements we discovered on the playground are on a science table, and we take time to explore, count and question everything.
Our most exciting activity was learning and demonstrating the word circumference. We had a big apple and talked about the word circumference. The children estimated the circumference of the apple. Then we measured string, using a ruler. The visual of measuring meant counting the numbers on the ruler. We cut three different lengths of string (based on the estimations), then voted on which length, and tallied the votes. At this point, we hadn’t measured the circumference of the apple, yet the children already had an engrossing activity of science and math. Measuring the circumference of the apple was fun, but the ‘real deal’ was the process of learning.
Process is always better than the product. We learn by doing. STEM should always be about the process because learning is a hands-on journey. It’s not about getting the right answer, it’s about understanding just how to get to the right answer.
A recent study at the University of Washington on brain activity and learning indicates that the early years are critical. The brain has extraordinary flexibility for the first five years of children for learning about their world. That has enormous implications and opportunities. It reaffirms that what I do in my classroom with children has, perhaps, the biggest effect on their learning. I have big shoes to fill every day!
Every time I read a research paper or a study on young children I say to myself, “Of course. I already know that.” No, I haven’t done the hard research, but I have taught and observed children for thirty years. I like to call that ‘grass roots research’. Thank goodness I follow my heart, my mind, and my instinct. STEM is working in my classroom.