Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some Posts on STEM: Early Childhood, Part I

I will be putting up some posts up regarding STEM education in our schools, at all levels. STEM is something educators see a lot, but for those who are not familiar, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. While many say this is the way to the future, I must say the future is here and has been here for the past decade. The rest of the world realized this and have been investing heavily in STEM areas of education at all levels, and especially at the college level. Why have China and India been rising so quickly economically, and why have countries such as the aforementioned been 'stealing' America's technical jobs? Because of their rapid rise in STEM education and the number of technically trained workers (e.g. China is training millions of engineers and scientists each year, the U.S. is in the tens of thousands per year). This, and because wages are a fraction of what American workers make, are the primary reasons many believe China is the next superpower in this century.

The first item to put out there is a necessary change that is needed as far as what our pre-school children are capable of with regards to science. An article from Education Week deals with this, and a new curriculum designed for those 3-4 year olds. Keep in mind, if you have kids or young siblings, think about how they learn. They are scientists! They actively investigate everything. They experiment. They go through trial and error, learn from mistakes, and actually try to predict what will happen as they 'play' with new toys. They are natural curious about everything, and over time make connections between different items and experiences. They learn language through intense observation and build off of what others do. Through group play, they teach and learn from each other. Is this not what we want from our high school graduates?! Is this not how successful research programs behave and operate?

As is stated by a researcher in this article,

" “Most teachers will have a science area in their classroom, ... and if you look on plans, you would see something listed as science but, in reality, there would be some shells, some magnets, and maybe a pumpkin, or a book about animals in winter,” said Nancy Clark-Chiarelli, a principal research scientist at the Education Development Center, a research group based in Newton, Mass. “But those items are not conceptually related, and they don’t promote children’s independent exploration of them.” "

The curriculum featured in this article is called Young Scientist, and is funded through the National Science Foundation. It is a start that is, I suppose, better late than never. There is more to come about STEM topics and issues.

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