By Michael Hilkemeijer
As Kate Highfield once stated, “early childhood educators have long recognised the importance of integrated approaches to learning, with a sound understanding that children’s learning doesn’t occur in neat, segregated boxes”.
This integrated approach is today of national importance for 21st century learners and refers to the use of STEM in early childhood education.
Developing an integrated approach in ECE
The role of technology in early childhood education is a complex but potentially powerful tool. However, if early childhood teachers such as yourself are to integrate ICT effectively into the early childhood education curriculum rather than add it as an extra activity, then it is essential that have a good understanding of ICT concepts and their relation to other areas of the curriculum. For example, science, mathematics, and engineering – STEM!
In many of my articles, I have spoken about the value of planning to focus on the importance of clear objectives for each activity. It is important that you plan to develop children’s ICT capability prior to using ICT in STEM activities for preschoolers as this will allow the children to focus on specific STEM objectives.
Yet, any ICT activity should be embedded in meaningful contexts and technology STEM activities for preschoolers fits right into this mantra. It would be hard to introduce spreadsheets for example without a number activity.
There are close relationships between ICT capability and knowledge, skills and understanding in other subject areas, and like STEM in early childhood education it would not be helpful to see their development in isolation.
The most effective learning of and with technology in early childhood education should involve a shift of focus between ICT objectives and other learning objectives during the course of an activity and this is effective through planned teacher intervention.
Foster learning strategies that emphasise higher order thinking skills so that you will provide an effective challenge for young children with technology STEM activities for young children.
What technology do others use in STEM activities?
In the past, studies have indicated that early childhood practitioners have used:
- Desktops and laptops;
- Tablet computers;
- Digital cameras
Programs included things like KIBO as the coding blocks are 3D, concrete, tangible blocks that children can manipulate and Scratch Jnr where they can develop critical and creative thinking. Lego WeDo and Bee bots are also ideal for technology stem activities for preschoolers.
In all your decisions, you must be guided by developmentally appropriate practices about what, when and where technology is to be integrated.
Your decisions should be selected carefully based on how each enriches learning and enriches other early childhood hands-on activities, rather than on marketing claims.
Technology STEM activities for preschoolers should be interactive, engaging and culturally sensitive in addition to developmentally appropriate.
- Technologies and apps should also initiate the four learning science pillars:
- Active involvement;
- Engagement with the materials;
- Meaningful personally relevant experiences and;
- Social interaction.
Here are six developmentally appropriate and achievable outcomes that will guide you in your decisions as provided by Rogow (2015, p.94):
- Routinely ask relevant questions about ideas and information and use at least two different strategies for finding credible answers.
- Exhibit the habit of linking answers to specific evidence.
- Demonstrate knowledge that media are made by people who make choices about what to include and what to leave out (ie. That all media messages are “constructed”).
- Choose appropriate pictures to accompany a story or report they have created and provide basic explanation for their choice.
- Create and share original stories and reports using images, sound and words.
- Identify media technologies as tools that people use for learning, communication, and persuasion , and that (with permission), they can use, too.
Digital play as a partner in STEM activities
A key characteristic of young children’s play is that whatever is in their environment can be used as play materials. As Bergen (2008) states “the essence of play is in its ability to enable players to transform their world through their active engagement, flexible thought, and creative control, using whatever materials are available” (p. 87). Every object in their play area should provide affordance that elicit actions or in other words, suggest ways it can be used in work or play and some have more than others.
Today, children’s play environment contains both toy technology that is either electronic or non-electronic. The more varieties of play that can be promoted through the electronically-enhanced technology, the more likely it is to engage young children’s interest and motivation.
Activities to try today
There are many potential playful approaches to achieving educational objectives through new technology use. Here are some technology STEM activities for preschoolers that you can try for yourself today.
Programming and simple robotics using Lego WeDo and Bee Bots
Case Study – Bee Bots in Mathematics
Programmable toys such as bee bots are particularly useful for encouraging more open-ended learning, exploration, and problem-solving. In this case study by Janka (2008), young children are organised into small groups for when teaching with bee bots. One group would be programming the bee bots while the other groups would be designing, drawing, painting, or building parts for bee bots scenery. A familiar scenario using a thematic or topic approach to teaching would be used and you would begin reading a story to the children and then ask the class how they could act out the story using the bee bots.
For example, a suitable or familiar story that is ideal for technology STEM activities for preschoolers would be something like Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ as it involves movement – Max going to his room, a forest scene, Max sailing in his boat, Max pausing while talking to the wild things, a dance like rumpus, and Max sailing back to his room.
In Janka’s example, the children could find out about the wild animals in the rainforest; they could also investigate floating, sinking and forces in science related to Max sailing in a boat. The topics can be creative cross-curricular approach to teaching that supports independent learning.