STEM in early childhood is a significant part of a child’s education in the 21st century classroom. It is skill based, it is relevant and it is hands-on. Yet, in the past such activities in the early years have only focused on the science and maths part of things leaving big gaps in the technological and engineering aspects of it.
This is significant as technology and science are intertwined together. They are like how a hand fits into a glove. Science in the 21st century simply cannot thrive without technology.
The use of technology permeates throughout the entire STEM in early childhood curriculum as it supports not only science, but maths and engineering. It is kind of like the silent partner to all of them enabling effective support and learning in the subjects whilst all along offering you the opportunity to develop ICT capability and ICT literacy.
This after all, is the ultimate aim of using technology in the classroom, to remain transparent in the background supporting subject learning and giving children the opportunity to advance in their learning progression in ICT capability without them even thinking about it.
Children are naturally curious about the world around them and this involves that of the technological world. We as early childhood teachers, should therefore encourage exploration along with their interest in science.
ICT resources can help young children explore science and develop crucial knowledge, skills and understanding that will enable them to make sense of their own, immediate environment as well as those of others’.
- Facilitate links with other places, subjects and other people.
- Facilitate the asking of questions and forming or modification of opinions
- Provide access to secondary sources of information with more breadth and depth.
- Support communication, thereby raising issues of audience and viewpoint
- Enable the gathering, storage and manipulation of data and other information
- Enable more effective analysis of data and information
- Enable simplification, simulation and modelling of scientific ideas
- Enable more effective communication of understanding of experimental results
- Support the asking of ‘What if…?’ questions through experimentation and testing
- Support teachers’ professional development alongside students’ learning.
(Williams and Easingwood, 2003, p7)
Inquiry in Science Education
However, if ICT is to make an impact on student science learning, then you as a teacher need to scaffold science ICT activities so that students can participate in the inquiry process.
As a teacher you want to provide your children with the most authentic learning experience and the use of technology effectively in science inquiry process can achieve this. That is what education in the digital age is all about.
For this to occur, there has to be an adjustment in your mindset and shift away from looking at technology as a means to an end and towards technology as a medium for all kinds of learning.
When technology is meaningfully integrated into the science inquiry-based lesson, the students benefit from the positive transformative effects of it such as:
- Shifting the emphasis from content to skills;
- Allowing the constant engagement;
- Democratising learning;
- Connecting to the world and;
- Simplifying the back-end work.
(Pahomov, 2014, pp. 15-20)
Therefore, it is recommended that the early learning years framework that you use needs to include these five core values:
- Presentation and;
Here is how technology is involved.
In each of these five steps there are key characteristics such as choice, personalisation, relevance and empowerment in inquiry.
There is a strong digital connections to each of these.
Take for example choice, students are swamped for choice not only for the range of technologies available to them, but for the choice of information, communication and features that technology brings.
Technology can really transform students’ work in the early learning environment making it very personalised. Early Childhood teachers can assist children in looking up information on the Internet related to the child’s interest which directly links it back to the child development.
Relevancy is a strong point in the use of technology as it brings authentic real world experiences to children and when children use the ICT tools provided it empowers them.
Let us now investigate how ICT can be used science case studies.
In each of these there are ICT competencies for investigating, creating, communicating and managing and operating and safe and ethical use of ICT in the ICT Capability Learning Continuum.
Look out for them.
Case Study: Young plants and Animals
(Hilton et al., 2014, p124-126)
Science Inquiry Skills: Observe, listen and respond to questions.
View, listen and discuss
After reading through an interactive book with the teacher about baby animals where the teacher has the opportunity to develop science understanding and literacy skills, children begin to develop their ICT capabilities by:
Investigating with teacher guidance, through knowledge source.
ICT Capability LC Connection:
Investigating with ICT –
- Define and plan information searches
- Locate, generate and access data and information
- Select and evaluate data and information.
This means that you would probably have to explain the Internet to young children right?
Explaining to a four year old about the Internet might be tricky so you might have to brush up on your own information literacy skills.
They will need to learn how to use ICT to:
Identify where information is located;
Use icons to locate and generate information;
Learn how located data or information was used.
Following completing this activity with the teacher, they will need to complete a similar sequence, but with a focus on plants.
ICT Capability LC Connection:
Manage and operate ICT- Children will need to….
- Select and use hardware and software
- Understand ICT systems
- Manage digital data.
Safe and ethical use of ICT on the Internet - Children will need to....
- Recognise intellectual property
- Apply digital information security practices
- Apply personal security protocols
- Identify the impacts of ICT in society.
This will need to be modelled appropriately to the children. Later, as their skills develop you can ask for assistance in searching for information, considering things such as keywords.
Think about how you can expand on this activity.
STEM in early childhood education is pivotal in the development of children in the 21st century. The intertwining of technology in science learning is just one example how you can develop foundations to ICT capability and ICT literacy in early childhood education and care today.