…tech, maths and mistakes.
Hello and welcome to the 56th edition of our fortnightly newsletter, Things in Education.
In our last edition we wrote about how STEM is important for preschoolers, while also exploring how STEM in preschool can be different from what we imagine it to be in middle and high school. We delved into how the Science and Engineering part of STEM can actually be done in a preschool setting. In this edition we go further into how the Technology and Mathematics part of STEM can apply to the preschool classroom. We also unravel some of the nuances that go into planning a STEM curriculum.
Technology in preschool STEM is multi-faceted and complicated to think about. But we can break it down into certain categories:
1. Technological devices
Technological devices play a crucial role in our modern society, and it is essential for preschoolers to develop basic computer skills from an early age. While screens, such as computers and tablets, are commonly associated with technology, it is important to understand that screen time should be purposeful and well-balanced. Preschoolers can benefit from engaging with technological devices in a meaningful way. For instance, using a word processor, even at the Upper Kindergarten level, allows children to practise their fine motor skills while also learning the fundamentals of typing and letter forms. This basic computer skill can later pave the way for more advanced tasks as they progress in their academic journey.
However, it is important to note that technological devices encompass much more than just screens. Preschoolers should also be exposed to other basic technological tools that are relevant to their daily lives. For example, providing children with child-friendly scissors allows them to develop their motor skills and hand-eye coordination while engaging in craft activities. Similarly, introducing simple measuring tools like rulers or tape measures can help them understand concepts like length and size. Making it explicit to the students that when they use a pair of scissors or a measuring tape, they are, in fact, using technology, is an important piece that educators need to remember.
2. Algorithmic thinking
Preschoolers can benefit from learning about algorithmic thinking. Algorithmic thinking involves breaking down complex problems into step-by-step instructions, developing logical reasoning skills. This skill can be nurtured through engaging activities such as sequencing games, puzzles, or very simply creating a ‘robot’ that follows instructions precisely. For example, students have to tell the robot to butter a piece of bread. Students need to break down this mundane motor task into sequential steps and give clear instructions to the robot.
3. Game play
Game play uses all the three aspects of technology that we mentioned above, along with improving problem-solving skills, concentration, and cognitive abilities. However, due to the addictive nature of games, this is not usually used by educators too often. We think that games in real-life (not screen-based) combine the skills involved with game play with the physical touch and feel element, making game play even more enriching.
Incorporating technology into the preschool classroom should go beyond screen time and include a variety of technological devices and experiences. By exposing preschoolers to basic computer skills, algorithmic thinking, encryption and decryption concepts, and educational game play, educators can create a well-rounded STEM curriculum that nurtures critical thinking, problem-solving, and logical reasoning skills in their young learners.
So, what about Mathematics? Parts of Mathematics in preschool, like number sense, pattern recognition, etc, should be covered in the regular curriculum. However in a STEM classroom, pattern recognition, data interpretation and analysis should be of particular focus. Students at this age are in the process of understanding numbers. Numeracy – What does a number mean? How is the abstract symbol related to the quantities observed in everyday life? So how do we expect students to analyse and interpret data? The important thing to note is that data need not only be in terms of numbers. I can make five buildings of different heights and ask students to tell me which building Spiderman will take the longest to climb. This is data interpretation in its concrete form. Adults also like to look at bar graphs instead of tables to quickly understand data.
Over the last edition and this, we have explored how STEM can work in preschool years. And in the previous edition we also wrote about why STEM skills are important at this stage of development. We think we would be remiss not to point out some of the pitfalls while planning a preschool STEM curriculum.
1. Teacher experience
In India, when teachers are trained for preschool level, they are not specifically trained in STEM skills. For example, we had a case where a group of preschool teachers in a school decided to skip a STEM lesson because none of them could put an electrical circuit together. So when a preschool decides to have a STEM curriculum, the schools need to plan for the development and support of the teachers to ensure that teachers do not feel overwhelmed and the students get the best learning experience.
2. Resource allocation by schools
Just as schools need to invest in their teachers’ development, they also need to invest in the resources needed to ensure a good STEM curriculum can be experienced by students. Not only does the lack of sufficient resources hinder teachers' ability to implement engaging STEM activities, but it also discourages teachers and maybe even demoralises them.
3. Student knowledge base is low, so STEM needs to be integrated with the rest of the curriculum
Preschools should be cautious to integrate STEM activities with the existing curriculum rather than treating it as a separate subject. By incorporating STEM concepts into other areas of learning such as language arts, maths, or social studies, teachers can provide a more holistic and interconnected educational experience for students. This integration helps students see the relevance and application of STEM in real-world contexts. For example, getting the students to break a code (decryption) as part of reading and experiencing stories.
Another very important reason for integrating STEM within the curriculum is that the students’ knowledge base is low. They have just started building their models of understanding. It is known that the problem-solving skills that are key in the STEM curriculum are better honed when working with a bigger knowledge base. For example, critically analysing why a dolphin is not a fish is easier based on knowledge that a middle school student has on the traits of fishes and mammals. But this will not be the case for preschoolers.
4. Having a clear purpose for the STEM curriculum in preschool
Having a clear purpose with the STEM curriculum helps in multiple ways. Let’s take two situations. In one preschool, the management wanted to ensure that students experienced growing plants, making and breaking simple codes, and other novel experiences which they would otherwise not have had. In this case the purpose is clear. Learning specifics about breaking codes or plants is not as important as students having novel experiences. This also puts less pressure on the teachers who know what the goal of the STEM curriculum is. In another preschool, the management wanted students to do a proper STEM curriculum. They wanted students to start thinking about problem solving. In this case, there is a need for close integration of the STEM curriculum with the rest of the curriculum and also a need to have deep training of teachers so that they feel supported and not overwhelmed.
A well-planned Foundational STEM curriculum, with clear goals and adequate teacher support, can do a fantastic job of enhancing students’ critical and analytical thinking skills while setting a strong foundation for future STEM pursuits. Our unboxED Early Learning Curriculum includes a STEM curriculum that can be used to set up a STEM lab for your preschool students, and is supported by orientation and teacher professional development sessions. If you are interested in implementing such a curriculum in your preschool, email at email@example.com or call +91 9898469961.
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