Incorporating STEM teaching into your curriculum
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is well recognised that people with good STEM skills are more likely to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and innovators. For this reason, the Australian Government is supporting a greater focus on STEM education to improve personal development, future job prospects and help build the Australian economy.
Importantly, STEM is not just about teaching the four disciplines that make up the acronym. That is why it is relevant to childcare centres. A STEM approach to teaching integrates the concepts from science, technology, engineering and mathematics, encouraging children to apply scientific and mathematical knowledge to situations in everyday life. It’s never too early to introduce children to STEM learning, and childcare centres are in a perfect position to develop our young thinkers of the future.
STEP Learning Resources looks at the importance of STEM teaching, and how you can incorporate it into your learning curriculum.
Why is STEM education important for young children?
The more opportunity that children have to play, explore and investigate their world in an unstructured way, the more likely they are to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. It can also increase their interest in STEM related school subjects later in life, leading to more scientists and engineers in our competitive global economy.
STEM or STEAM
You may have heard of STEAM, which introduces Arts (e.g. languages, music and design) into the STEM model. STEAM is a relatively new concept and debate rages as to whether the Arts dilute the aim of STEM teaching. Supporters say that ‘Arts thinking’ brings more creativity into the problem solving process, adding to STEM success. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci, while mostly remembered as a great painter, sketched early concepts of the helicopter, parachute and an armoured vehicle. Scientifically, he was ahead of his time. Maybe we should pay more attention to our children’s works of art, particularly if they attend a childcare centre that incorporates STEAM learning!
How to incorporate STEM into your learning curriculum
Focusing on STEM for now, look for opportunities for children to investigate and explore their world, applying their knowledge to a situation. Reduce the amount of time on structured teaching, and encourage children to show you how they would solve a problem or complete a challenge, without giving them the answer. Children are naturally curious and ask lots of questions. This makes STEM teaching much easier than it might appear. As STEM is about integrated learning, it works well when you transition from an intellectual exercise to an investigative activity e.g. after a session on learning to count, go outside and count leaves or sticks.
STEM activities within the childcare environment
Natural science – Our natural world provides the easiest way to integrate STEM learning within the childcare environment. Talk about concepts together and then explore them further outside.
- Use binoculars and microscopes to examine the outdoor world.
- Plant a garden or grow seeds in pots.
- Make a mini river through sand and build a dam wall – which materials work best as a dam?
- Fill containers with water and soak up the water with sponges – where did the water go?!
- Mix oil and water together and try to remove the oil – discuss oil spills at sea and their effect on the environment.
- Build a ramp and roll different objects down the ramp. Ask children to predict which objects will roll faster or slower. Ask why.
- Turn a playdough shape into a different shape.
- Use building blocks for maths puzzles – build block towers to show the answer.
- Sort objects into different shapes. Search for more objects that fit each category even if they cannot be moved or can only be seen through the window (e.g. round wheels on a car).
- Discuss the functions of different items e.g shoes, hats, forks and knives.
Encourage children’s questions and curiosity throughout all these activities.
While science, technology, engineering and mathematics are traditionally seen as school subjects, there is a vital role for early childhood educators to stimulate interest in these important subjects. Who knows, you could be instrumental in developing the next Leonardo da Vinci?!
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