co-authored by Nancy Alvarez and Heid Veal
What do you picture when you imagine an ideal early childhood learning experience? Do you see young children sitting quietly at tables, independently completing school work or do you visualize them in various groups exploring, creating, pretending, tinkering, and communicating? The later is what the majority imagine and is what many would describe as developmentally appropriate for our youngest learners. When considering an ideal early learning setting, the young learn best when educators design purposeful, integrated experiences where students’ inquisitive nature and creativity are capitalized on to propel them towards foundational learning.
With this in mind, we ask, do students in PreK and Kindergarten benefit from participating in learning that integrates art and music? Absolutely! Would young students benefit from engaging in specifically designed STEAM challenges and lessons or attending a STEAM Lab where multiple subjects are integrated? You bet they would!!!
STEAM is about integrating subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) to develop students’ 21st century skills such as:critical thinking, collaboration, communication, coding, and creativity.
During the prekindergarten and kindergarten years, a child’s curiosity and desire to understand their world is in high gear. By providing students opportunities to learn through STEAM at a young age, schools can build on their naturally inquisitive and creative nature. As a result, STEAM experiences spark learning in the early years and help students create rock-solid schema for future, more complex learning.
Below, you will read several examples of how STEAM learning is being purposefully designed for the young in two North Texas school districts.
Celina ISD in Celina, TX is providing STEAM learning for every PreK and Kindergarten student in their growing district. Each week, Celina Primary School students visit their STEAM Lab, created out of the vision and leadership of their principal, Nancy Alvarez. In the lab, students rotate through different challenges that requires them to use various STEAM skills. The challenges are designed by a site based STEAM Committee made up of teachers and administrators. Lessons are designed to be engaging, aligned to state standards, and are often open-ended, meaning there is more than one way to solve the challenge. The goal is for each STEAM station to be hands-on and require collaboration and communication with peers. These interactions develop students’ divergent thinking ability and help development soft skills, critical for future success.
In a neighboring North Texas school district, STEAM experiences are being created to spark early learning for Pre-K students in Lewisville ISD. Their Pre-K teachers started by learning new ways to infuse “Creativity in the Curriculum” during summer 2017 (based on the NAEYC published book Nurturing Creativity by Rebecca Isbell and Sonia Akiko Yoshizawa) as a springboard for bringing STEAM experiences to their Pre-K students. Teachers have continued their learning by exploring the components that make for solid STEAM challenges and facilitating STEAM experiences with their three and four year old students. Heidi Veal, their Early Childhood Program Administrator, has provided professional learning experiences for teachers, a variety of engaging STEAM materials, lesson modeling, and support to guide and encourage teachers along in their STEAM journey. As a result, a number of Pre-K teachers have been inspired to design coding challenges for their students using BeeBots and Code-a-pillars and new fifteen day Pre-K Programming and Pre-K Robotics units have been designed to be piloted in the coming months. Additionally, two LISD Pre-K classes were chosen by the Boston Museum of Science to pilot a collection of their “Wee Engineer” lessons. Finally, Lillie J. Jackson Early Childhood Center is in the design phase of creating their own STEAM lab for their students to explore and experience on a routine basis. The STEAM spark is igniting engaging and exciting integrated learning experiences for LISD Pre-K students, and this is just the beginning!
STEAM experiences are incredibly engaging and spark learning in the early years. The benefits are many, including foundational problem solving experiences, visual spatial development, social-emotional learning, and pre-academic work that scaffold literacy and mathematics all while providing opportunities to explore, collaborate, create, and question in a developmentally appropriate way.
What next steps will you take to bring STEAM to your young learners? We welcome your ideas, suggestions, and questions in the comment section below.
In our next post, we will share the components that make for a solid STEAM challenge for early learners and resources that have inspired our own learning and work around STEAM.