The role of an educator is changing…
…and what expertise means now.
Hello and welcome to the 35th edition of our fortnightly newsletter, Things in Education. This edition is a little different. Can you find out what is different as you go through the article?
As an educational consultant, I often receive questions from preschool teachers about how to best prepare their students for success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields later in life. It's never too early to start building a strong foundation of STEM skills, and there are plenty of fun and engaging activities that pre-schoolers can participate in to develop these key competencies.
One great way to introduce STEM concepts to pre-schoolers is through simple experiments that they can conduct on their own. Not only do these experiments help develop important cognitive and motor skills, but they also help foster a love of learning and discovery that can stay with children throughout their lives. Let's take a look at five examples of experiments that pre-schoolers can try out, along with the specific skills that they can develop through each activity.
Oil and Water
Fill a jar with water and add a few drops of food colouring. Then, add some oil to the jar and observe what happens. The oil will separate from the water and float to the top. This experiment can help pre-schoolers develop their observation skills and learn about the properties of liquids.
Through this experiment, pre-schoolers can learn that oil and water do not mix, and that the properties of liquids can be very different from one another. They can also develop their observation skills by watching the oil and water separate and noting the differences between the two substances.
Sink or Float
Fill a basin with water and gather a variety of objects (e.g., a ball, a rock, a feather, a paperclip). Predict which objects will sink and which will float, then test them out. This experiment can help pre-schoolers develop their prediction and observation skills, as well as their understanding of the properties of different materials.
Through this experiment, pre-schoolers can learn that different materials have different properties, and that these properties can affect whether an object sinks or floats. They can also develop their prediction skills by making guesses about which objects will sink or float, and their observation skills by testing out their predictions and noting the results.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
Mix baking soda and vinegar in a jar and observe what happens. The mixture will bubble and fizz. This experiment can help pre-schoolers develop their observation skills and learn about chemical reactions.
Through this experiment, pre-schoolers can learn about chemical reactions and how different substances can interact with one another to create new materials. They can also develop their observation skills by watching the baking soda and vinegar mixture react and noting the changes that occur.
Overall, each of these experiments can help pre-schoolers develop their observation and prediction skills, as well as their understanding of the properties of different materials and liquids. They can also learn about cause and effect, and how different materials interact with one another. Finally, they can develop their scientific inquiry skills, as they ask questions, make predictions, and conduct experiments to find answers.
The entire text above this line has been generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) called Chat-GPT. This text was in response to a prompt shared by us to tell us what activities help kindergarteners build skills which can help them with STEM learning later in life. So essentially the artificial intelligence looked all over the Internet (and it is good at doing this) and found some activities and their benefits for the students. This means that earlier humans needed to search for the relevant information in the sea of information called the Internet. Now, we have an artificial intelligence which can do it faster and more accurately.
However, at this moment, the limitation with artificial intelligence is in helping humans with good pedagogical strategies. Strategies which ensure the development of pre-STEM skills are still missing. For example, when you search on the Internet, there are thousands of pages which will tell you what activities you can do in a STEM classroom in preschools. Even when the sites share that teachers need to improve or build observation skills in students, there are only a handful (if any) of sites which really tell us how to build observational skills. What will the teacher need to do in terms of asking questions? What type of behaviour will the teacher need to model in front of the students? And how will the teacher model this type of behaviour?
Similarly, you will come across thousands of sites mentioning that students need to build data collecting and data analysing skills. A simple data analysis activity at this age is pattern recognition, like ABABABA or ABCABC, etc. Students are also able to recognise patterns like AB, AB, CD, CD, AB – meaning that A and B will always be together, and C and D will always be together. However, this level of pattern recognition may require some level of questions from the teachers. Again, very few sites are dedicated to helping teachers with what type of questions to ask so that students can recognise more subtle patterns.
As we saw with the example above, AI is still not able to solve for this. The AI only wrote back with the activity and what benefits the students may get from these activities, with no mention of how to engage deeply with the students by asking questions. Our academic team at Things Education brings in experience and expertise which specifically help with the pedagogical and psychological approach to such activities. And we think that’s how the role of experts is going to change going forward. The role will be to improve on existing things on the Internet, which are brought to your device by an AI. But a human expert will have to use their discretion to go deeper in terms of pedagogy, psychology and context.
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