STEM for Early Learners

STEM-for-early-learners

A recent White House Symposium brought together leaders from the public and private sectors who have committed to promoting active STEM learning for the country’s youngest children. The Summit, presented in partnership with the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services and Invest in US, highlighted steps being taken by the Obama Administration, including the development of new research grants, to improve early elementary science outcomes.

Initiatives include the development of new research grants and a set of early STEM resources for families and educators of young children called Let’s Talk, Read and Sing about STEM! The grants will support researchers in exploring how early elementary school science teaching can improve education outcomes for children, especially those from low-income backgrounds and from communities underrepresented in science professions. Later this year ED and HHS will release a joint policy statement on the role of technology in early learning. The Department of Education is inviting public comment on a series of questions that will inform the development of the statement. Among the questions, ED is asking for input on how to help educators, parents and caregivers best determine what content is age-appropriate and how to make it easier to select applications that are high quality and proven effective.

The Administration’s effort pale however in the face of the wealth of resources that the private sector has committed to developing. Participating organizations range from PBS to the Erikson Institute’s Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center to the Girl Scouts; itinclude efforts aimed at expanding access to early STEM learning, early educator preparation and PD, supporting early learning in communities, developing television, media, and technology resources and research.

PBS has committed to creating, by 2020, a series of new evidence-based media experiences designed to support families and educators in helping children develop early STEM skills. In addition to new television programming, these free resources will include parent apps and classroom-ready, curriculum-aligned STEM resources that supplement instruction in preschool through third grade classrooms.

The Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM (TIES) will bring Early Childhood Fab Labs to schools, child care programs, museums and other settings serving young learners, including Head Start programs throughout the country. TIES will prototype these Labs in two Head Start programs with the intent to build a scalable model that would enable all Head Start programs to be able to have Early Childhood Fab Labs.

Boston’s Museum of Science has launched a three-year initiative to create a research-based engineering curriculum for children ages three to five, building on its Engineering is Elementary® curriculum. Lesson plans will be available online at no charge.

A number of efforts focus on engaging parents. The National PTA and Bayer USA Foundation are launching a three-year initiative to engage families in STEM education. The partners will deploy 100,000 science experiences for families, and test strategies to increase STEM access and participation in urban areas. Great Minds in STEM (GMiS) will deliver 30 STEM awareness orientation sessions for 1,000 parents, to increase awareness of STEM college and career possibilities and empower parents to engage in STEM learning at home. The Children’s Museum of Houston, ReadyRosie and Houston Independent School District will launch Paired-Up for Parents, a set of in-person STEM activities for families, paired with video-based STEM engagement modeling, to expand family-focused early STEM experiences in primarily at-risk communities.

What’s really great here is that many of the participating organization are deeply involved in early childhood education, like the Erikson Institute, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Sesame Workshop, and the National Head Start Association. That not only increases the likelihood that the resources will be age appropriate (hands on, multisensory, interactive, engaging) but also helps ensure access to the early education community. All of these public-private partnerships that the administration has fostered face the challenge of distribution and adoption. It’s one thing to create great resources and another to make sure that the target audience knows about them and gives them a try.

This opinion column was written by Ann Wujcik, editor of EdNet Insight, and originally appeared in an April 2016 edition of EdNet News Alerts. EdNet Insight and EdNet News Alerts are MDR brands.