Instructional coaching improves preschool teachers' comfort with STEM topics in the classroom
- As with math, many teachers who work with young children are also uncertain of their ability to teach science — but faculty members from the University of Chicago are working with local child-care centers to improve preschool teachers’ confidence in the STEM subjects, according to a PBS News Hour piece.
- Experts from the university’s STEM Education Center provide coaching to teachers working with low-income children, observing their lessons and helping them introduce ideas such as friction or gravity. Even if children don’t understand the concepts, if they’ve tested whether an item floats, or sinks, for example, they can recall those experiences when they cover the topic of density when they are older, the report says.
- The scientists say it’s OK for teachers to tell students they don’t know something and that such honesty can reinforce the inquiry and discovery approach. They plan to expand the program to more early-childhood programs in the future.
The significant attention to pre-reading skills in early-childhood programs can sometimes overshadow other subject areas like science and math, but "STEM Starts Early," a report released last year by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, said that the “technology revolution has made it critical for all children to understand STEM.”
The report noted that parents, as well as teachers, need support and knowledge of how to encourage STEM learning through activities such as block play or gardening. The authors recommended giving teachers more time to engage in the same kinds of hands-on lessons that they want for children. They also recommend connecting families with libraries, museums and other community “charging stations” for additional STEM-related experiences.
Some early-childhood education experts say that a science-based curriculum is a natural fit for young children’s curiosity. That’s what University of Rochester professor Lucia French designed in the early 2000s with ScienceStart! Organized around topics — such as color and light, and properties of matter — the program was found to build children’s vocabulary and content knowledge. In another example, CentroNía, an early-childhood education program in Washington, DC, has recently published the "Theatrical Journey Playbook: Introducing Science to Early Learners through Guided Pretend Play," which brings scientific concepts into early-childhood classrooms through dramatic play. Each of the 23 scripts provide “abundant language, cognitive, creative, fine and gross motor, socio-emotional, and scientific/ mathematical skill development techniques,” according to a press release. There is also growing attention to computer science with early coding and lessons focused on computational thinking now integrated into preschool and the early grades.
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