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STEM education

How early can we introduce STEM education?

‘Seeds of STEM’ aims to provide preschoolers with the foundation for STEM careers and lifelong learning

Key points:

  • Researchers are developing a STEM curriculum intended for preschool students
  • Though evidence suggests early STEM exposure has benefits, little STEM instruction occurs in preschool classrooms
  • A grant enables six clusters of STEM lessons to be introduced to preschool children through play and other instructional methods

Although research suggests that students as young as preschool age would benefit from STEM education, experts point to a gap between what the research says and how much STEM-focused curriculum actually exists in preschools.

In an effort to address the national need to guide more students to STEM careers, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers are developing curriculum which introduces STEM principles during the formative preschool years.

“Despite the evidence that introducing STEM during the pre-kindergarten years supports children’s cognitive development and positive attitudes toward learning and inquiry, there is very little STEM instruction in pre-kindergarten classrooms,”said Martha Cyr, principal investigator of Seeds of STEM: The Development of an Innovative Pre-Kindergarten STEM Curriculum; and executive director of The STEM Education Center at WPI. “Through this initiative we aim to increase STEM instruction practices in preschool classrooms, increase children’s exposure to STEM, and ultimately improve children’s curiosity, knowledge, and skills in STEM.”

Next page: How to combat the idea that STEM education is too challenging for preschool

STEM education is often perceived as complex and challenging—too sophisticated for preschool, but Cyr and Mia Dubosarsky, co-principal investigator of Seeds of STEM and director of professional development at The STEM Education Center at WPI, contend that the fundamental core of STEM concepts is simple; problem solving.

Supported by a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Services (IES), over the course of four years the Seeds of STEM initiative will involve the creation and testing of six clusters of related lessons—referred to as units—that introduce young children to the problem-solving process through popular storybooks, play, and classroom authentic problems.

“The actual subject matter of STEM in preschool classrooms will be basic,” Dubosarsky said. “Lessons focus on the problem solving process, not concepts and theories. The idea is to provide fundamental knowledge of the problem solving process, to help children and teachers internalize the process and use it to address any problem they have inside and outside of school.”

Seeds of STEM also aims to address the lack of people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds in STEM fields by partnering with the early education program for low-income children, Head Start of Worcester, to develop, test, and evaluate Seeds of STEM lesson plans.

A pilot test of the entire curriculum is planned for September 2017 in Montachusett Opportunity Council preschools. If the lessons continue to prove to be effective, Cyr and Dubosarsky plan to seek additional grant funding to distribute the curriculum to more schools.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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