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Dr. Tisha Shipley has been in education for over 23 years. She has taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted and Talented 3rd-6th Grades, Dr. Shipley was an elementary principal, a cheer coach, and was on...
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Using Steam and Stem in the ECE classroom: Part 1

As we get ready to head in to summer, I know you are thinking about taking a break! You should be.  But, as a teacher, I know my brain was always thinking, “what is something new I will try next year”?  I am going to break down STEAM and STEM learning this summer in a several part series, to make it easier to try to organize and decide what YOU want to do in the fall! 

Early childhood education is always changing, and this includes the curriculum we teach and how we teach the topics. STEM and STEAM are not new terms but newer since I started teaching in 2003. STEM education encompasses four different disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEAM incorporates five: science, technology, engineering, art and math.

A child’s vehicle to learning is through play. With STEM and STEAM education it is easy to incorporate the four disciplines into a child’s learning day. Lifelong scientific literacy begins with attitudes and values that you, as the teacher, establish in the early years. Because we are role models for our students our positive attitude towards these disciplines will reflect how our students feel about these areas of learning.

Things to remember as you teach STEM AND STEAM:

1. Show excitement!

2. Teach students how to think critically and ask themselves questions about the topics you are teaching.

3. Explain to them why it is important to know the lesson and concepts you are teaching.

4. Set your classroom up for learning through DAP and hands-on exploration.

5. Integrate the curriculum. Bring in all disciplines for example spelling, literacy etc.  You can do this through an integrated, thematic or project approach too!

Why Use Thematic Units

  • It increases students interest
  • Helps students understand connections
  • Expands assessment strategies
  • Keeps students engaged
  • Compacts the curriculum
  • Saves teachers time because it incorporates all subjects
  • Draws on connections from the real world and life experiences
  • Builds on prior knowledge

What is the Project Approach?

The project approach involves a sustained, in-depth exploration of events, materials, themes or objects in a child's environment and is carried out in such a way that children are encouraged to raise questions and search for answers about a topic that holds their interest over time.  Literacy and numeracy skills and higher-order thinking can be applied. It is normally 4-6 weeks but can last as short or long as you would like.

6. Incorporate problem-solving activities that expand thinking on science, math, engineering, art and technology.

Effective Teaching Practices as you incorporate STEM AND STEAM:

4 teaching practices that are critical to early learning in science and math:

  1. Intentional teaching---thoughtfully plan learning experiences with math and science in mind.
  2. Teaching for understanding—learning goals should always focus on understanding so children can apply their new knowledge.
  3. Encouraging inquiry-children should be told to ask questions, establish relationships and communicate ideas.
  4. Providing real-world contexts—curriculum should focus on materials, situations, and experiences that are important, interesting, and meaningful to young children. Young children learn best when they can interact with concrete materials.

Setting Up Your Environment:

Our classroom arrangement is important for many reasons.  Opportunities for learning should abound throughout the entire classroom community.  The way you set up your environment will more than likely change each year since you have different students, backgrounds and abilities.

The environment should:

1. be a warm nurturing place, where children feel valued.

2. display a daily schedule, so they know what to expect and when.

3. have diverse curriculum that the children are interested in. 

4. have many areas set up so children have a choice.

5. differentiate for all types of learners.

Teachers must intentionally integrate science and math into all parts of the classroom day and learning environment. You can do this in many ways.  Centers or stations are one way to incorporate learning through hands on exploration and engagement. 

The classroom centers are set up to

1. differentiate for all students

2. add interest that incorporate the themes and curriculum you are teaching

3. add interest and curiosity about the STEM/STEAM disciplines.

The ideas shared here are ONLY ideas to get you started thinking about how you can set your classroom to be a conducive learning community that involves STEM/STEAM disciplines. It takes a little time and creativity, but it is so worth it. It is truly bringing in another component of learning and enrichment for students. This also allows for differentiation, hands on exploration, fun, excitement and adds depth to what you are already doing. Part 2: Planning, Managing and Incorporating STEM/STEAM Learning Centers will dive deeper in to how to set up centers for STEM, STEAM learning. 


What is your passion:  Dr. Jeff the Dancing Scientist LOVES Science and Math

What is Steam Education?