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How many glass discs will sink a ship?… Building a Pyramid…Predicting and Observing the light and heavy.
If you are in the business of helping children learn, chances are, you are already doing this without knowing it. Read on to find out how to make it purposeful.
What is STEM? Quite simply, it is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. For me, this is so exciting. In a lot of ways, I am still a child. I always have questions about how things work. I’m the person who pokes something to see what it feels like. I move my garden around constantly to see how things grow in a different location. And as I explore, I learn. I do this with technology as well. I’m not the most proficient at techno stuff. But I am great at saving a backup and then pressing the buttons to see what happens. I have a very low boredom threshold. And so do children. You will get the glazed eyes when you go on and on about, let’s say, how houses are built. You get all kinds of creative excitement when you let them figure it out themselves using well thought out materials, predictions, and observations. The bonus is that you give them the foundation and desire for a lifetime of learning.
STEM can be called play-based learning because it is presented in the form of play. The children are playing while they are learning and playing is what they do best. It is also what I call Natural Learning. I give the children the materials to discover their world…to see how it works…to ask questions that we can further explore. My parents are part of my team. I’m not there when they are learning with their children but I hear about it. I hear how daddy was building something and my Little got to help. He can name the tools that were used and how they worked. He wonders if he could use a tape measure in the block area. He can! and in the sand area, and in the dramatic center, and just about anywhere something has to be measured. I learn about it when my Little is helping to cook in the kitchen and they are discovering how many spoon fulls fill up the glass measure. I learn about it when they share how they are figuring out how to keep their siblings out of their special toys or how to keep the babies from knocking down their structure. I learn about it when they tell me that a hedgehog is a different kind of animal than a porcupine but that there are some things that are the same. It is constant because they are constantly learning.
STEM is also taking the child out of the classroom and making their world the classroom. My favorite days are the days we get out into nature and explore as completely as we safely can. In a sense, we are going back to the way children used to learn. They learn by doing. They learn what they are good at, what they want to become better at, what interests them, what makes them feel good about themselves. They ask questions and they answer them. Thoughtful STEM activities will take children beyond the STEM skills to cooperative learning, problem-solving and communicating their learning through language and literacy as well.
We plan our teaching experiences because STEM learning can be planned and also unplanned. STEM is also interdisciplinary and children can be led to make connections through open-ended (what, why and how questions). We make sure the materials for independent discovery are available and prepare to have our minds blown by what they discover.