STEM enrichment for young learners
By : A.A. Diah Cahaya Dewi
STEM is the acronym given to the integrated learning approach focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The rise of the digital age STEM education is more critical than ever. Early STEM education can promote ongoing academic success, and children who learn STEM concepts throughout their education are better prepared to meet increasingly technology-focused professional requirements.
It’s never too early to start STEM education. Investigations show that early exposure to STEM has positive impacts across the entire spectrum of learning. STEM education can be identified as one of the new approaches in the educational system, which also aims for students to be able to solve problems in their daily lives (İdin, 2018). Pre-school children are mentally and physically active. STEM educational activities invite them to explore the world around them using all their senses. STEM is a way of thinking about how teachers at all levels—and parents as well—should be helping preschool children integrate knowledge across disciplines and encouraging them to think in a more connected and holistic way. For this reason, STEM education can be given to preschool students via STEM activities within both formal and informal contexts. They bring wonder and curiosity to preschool experiences. K12 Learning Liftoff (2019), children benefit from learning STEM subjects because these disciplines play a fundamental role in setting the foundations for future learning.
It is not necessary for children to learn all the methods and techniques used in science, engineering or mathematics, but they should actively participate in the core practices of each of them. These core practices are the distinct ways of doing, thinking and talking in a discipline. For instance, scientific practices include asking researchable questions, planning and carrying out investigations, gathering and analyzing data or constructing evidence-based explanations (NRC, 2012). These practices should be integrated in the core activities in which children are engaged when doing Early Childhood Special Education (ECSA). An example is 5-year-olds involved in the scientific practice of using evidence to build explanations after doing purposeful observations of snails (Monteira & Jiménez-Aleixandre, 2016). In engineering, the practice of designing and constructing solutions can be promoted by, for instance, challenging children to build a catapult. In mathematics, children can develop the practice of solving numeracy problems by grouping themselves according to the number they portray (1, 2, 3 or 4). In order to foster children’s STEM literacy and to encourage curiosity they also can be introduced to the scientific method, a systematic and logical approach used to answer a question or solve a problem. By asking the right questions, we can help stimulate investigations where students are identifying objects, making comparisons and predictions, testing ideas, and sharing discoveries, all while observing their natural environment. Children can also explore sizes, shapes, patterns, and quantities in the process. In this way, children can learn concepts from different disciplines in different contexts, all in ways that are naturally engaging to them. For preschoolers, the challenge is appropriate to their age, grade, and developmental stage. As they explore options and gain an understanding of the problem, they must "reach out" to the respective STEM disciplines and apply knowledge and skills to the problem.
To achieve the goal that children experience STEM skills in a joyful way does not require big expenditure of money or high-tech equipment because the natural phenomena surrounding them already fascinates and invites them to observe and explore. More importantly, the children's self-efficacy can be enhanced when parents and teachers collaboratively emphasize the importance and value of STEM skills (Bandura, Barbaranelli,Caprara, & Postorelli, 2001; Zeldin & Pajares, 2000). Using this positive impact from the beginning of life in the early years and in early childhood education is believed to help bring the power to increase the number of individuals interested, motivated, and feeling confident in STEM.
Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. V. & Pastorelli, C. (2001) Self-efficacy beliefs as shapersof children’s aspirations and career trajectories. Child Development, 72, 187-206. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8624.00273
İdin, Ş. (2018). An overview of STEM education and industry 4.0. M. Challey, S.A. Kıray (Edt.). Research in Highlights in STEM Education (pp 194-208). Turkey: ISRES Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.isres.org/books/chapters/An%20Overview%20of%20STEM%20Education%20and%2 0Industry%204.0_25-12-2018.pdf
K12 Learning Liftoff (2019). Why STEM Education Is Essential for Younger Kids. Retrieved from: https://www.learningliftoff.com/why-stem-education-is-essential-for-younger-kids/
Monteira, S. F., & Jiménez-Aleixandre, M. P. (2016). The practice of using evidence in kindergarten:The role of purposeful observation. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 53(8), 1232–1258.http://doi.org/10.1002/tea.21259
NRC. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts and core ideas. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.