Reframing Early Childhood Science Activities to Address the NGSS and STEM Approaches

Focus of Workshop
In this workshop, participants will explore and experience how early childhood science activities can be reframed as activities that meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, Achieve, Inc., 2013) and/or as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities. We will present STEM teaching techniques and suggest ways to develop activities from an existing science curriculum. The workshop will involve a series of activities which are appropriate for early childhood students (Pre-K and K, and expandable to Grades 1 and 2).
Although STEM education has garnered a great deal of recent attention in the United States, the possibilities of STEM at the early childhood education level remain relatively unexplored. When defining STEM activities, we take the perspective shared by early childhood specialists (c.f., Moomaw, 2013) that if any two of the four disciplines are intentionally emphasized, then an activity can be considered STEM.
Providing opportunities for young children to participate in STEM activities seems a worthy endeavour: STEM builds upon students’ innate interests in the natural world, may help develop positive attitudes towards the disciplines, and may provide a foundation upon which further learning and understanding can be built. The quality of children’s learning environments prior to age 6 may have an influence on later academic success (cf., Campbell, Pungello, Miller-Johnson, Burchinal, & Ramey, 2001). Thus, appropriate STEM experiences in early childhood may lead to enhanced success in STEM at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels. In addition, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA, 2014) suggests that early childhood STEM may offer opportunities for teachers to engage in activities with young children that capitalize on students’ interests, experiences and prior knowledge.
However, recent reports indicate that little time is spent teaching STEM subjects in early childhood education. One US study found that in a typical day at the Pre-K to Grade 3 level, language arts accounted for 89 minutes of instruction, math accounted for 54 minutes, and science accounted for only 19 minutes (Horizon Research, 2013), suggesting there was little likelihood of anything resembling STEM in the classroom. Elsewhere, the situation has been presented even more starkly: “Pre-K teachers seldom teach science, and exploring engineering ideas is rarely part of Pre-K learning” (Successful STEM Education, 2013, p. 3). This lack of attention to STEM may be because teachers who are unsure of their science abilities (cf., Czerniak, & Schriver, 1994) are unlikely to tackle anything perceived as even further outside their comfort zone.
Suggestions are that early childhood science instruction should be play-based, address what children know and can learn, involve an inquiry approach, and provide appropriate scaffolding to foster conceptual understanding and reasoning (e.g.,Trundle & Saçkes, 2012). We take the same perspective on the importance of intellectual pursuits, play, and students’ interests when thinking about appropriate early childhood STEM education. Children’s early STEM experiences should be hands-on and allow them to experiment and explore with everyday materials in meaningful ways; these types of experiences can be related to later academic and social success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010; Ramey & Ramey, 1998).
This workshop will allow participants to engage in hands-on explorations for the majority of the workshop. Connections between science instruction, NGSS, and STEM will be explored. Participants will also critique activities and/or discuss in small groups and receive handouts describing the outline for activities explored in the workshop, ideas for adapting or designing activities for early childhood students, and resource lists. The primary source material from which activities are drawn (Moomaw, 2013) will also be available for purchase at a discounted price.
Sequence and Duration of Activities
This workshop will model a process that can be applied to common early childhood science activities to transform them to meet NGSS and/or STEM requirements. We will follow a series of five sequential activities: i) exploring a standard science activity, ii) showing how that activity can highlight science process skills, iii) illustrating connections to NGSS, iv) revealing STEM possibilities using the same materials and modifying activities, and v) demonstrating ways to incorporate art and language.
1. Introduction (10 minutes) Overview of the Workshop and its Goals
1. Introductions
2. Background for Early Learning approach to science and STEM
3. Early Childhood science instruction  NGSS  STEM
4. Outline of activities
2. Activities (60 minutes) Investigate Connections between Science, NGSS, and STEM using Rocks and Minerals
i) Using Your Senses – A Science Activity
Participants will use their senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell, but not taste) to investigate 5 rocks and minerals (mica, sandstone, talc, pumice, and granite) and discover the unique properties of each. Scientific tools such as magnifying glass and balance will be provided.
ii) Science Process Skills
Deconstruct the first activity, highlighting science process skills (e.g., observing, describing, and communicating) as delineated in a variety of curriculum standards. Segue into NGSS by identifying these skills as aspects of science practices. Incorporate additional science practices by ordering and classifying rock samples by size or mass.
iii) NGSS
Participants will explore how the initial activity relates to NGSS science and engineering practices and to cross cutting concepts and explore how it can be modified to address additional standards. For example, the previous activity incorporates the practices of asking questions and defining problems, analyzing and interpreting data, and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. By adding an ordering activity and a sorting activity that results in rudimentary graphs, we can add using mathematics and computational thinking as well as engaging in argument from evidence. Crosscutting patterns that can be addressed in the modified activities include patterns; scale, proportion, and quantity; structure and function; and stability and change.
iv) STEM
Participants will deconstruct the previous activities and begin filling in a table with S-T-E-M column headings. We will brainstorm to fill in additional cells. Examples:
S: minerals versus rocks content understanding
T: use of tools: magnifying glass and balance; use of ICT: locate pictures and information
E: rocks and minerals are relevant for construction (strength and durability), use rocks to build a tower or inukshuk
M: sorting and classification, ordering, measuring, graphing
v) Infusing Language and Art into Science and STEM
Selections of relevant picture books will be shared, along with a reading list. Using Think/Pair/Share, participants will identify where language was/could be used in previous activities. Art is often a good fit with early childhood STEM and here participants will create a granite collage, showing how a rock is made of minerals.
3. Consolidation (20 minutes) Full Group Discussion
Participants will discuss the appropriateness of STEM in early childhood education along with challenges and benefits. Other discussion topics include: a) things to consider when adapting science activities to meet NGSS; b) challenges of adapting science activities to become STEM activities; and c) directions of future research.
Objectives and Instructional Strategies
By the end of this workshop participants will be able to: i) identify the alignment between science, NGSS, and STEM in early childhood; ii) address challenges involved in implementing STEM activities; iii) identify characteristics of effective STEM activities at the early learning years; and iv) reframe a common science activity to meet NGSS engineering design aspects and/or to incorporate a STEM emphasis. Instructional strategies that will be used to achieve these objectives will include: demonstration/ modelling, hands-on investigation, Think/Pair/Share, and writing to learn.
Judging Workshop Effectiveness
At the end of this workshop, participants will be asked to complete a short online Likert scale questionnaire aligned with our objectives. Statements might include: ‘this workshop clearly identified potential linkages between science, NGSS and STEM for early years students’, ‘the activities offered in this workshop were effective in demonstrating STEM disciplines for early years students’, and ‘as a result of this workshop I am better able to identify (and apply) STEM activities for early years learners’.
Maintaining Contact
All participants will be invited to join a Google group and/or share contact information with the presenters. We will provide our email addresses before and after the session and send out a summary email after the session to all participants who wish to be contacted.
Intended Audience
This workshop would be of interest to:
~Researchers working with early childhood participants in science or STEM, because we will be sharing examples from our own research (COP).
~Science methods instructors, particularly those instructors who focus on early childhood up to Grade 3, because the activities will be appropriate for and easy to implement in science methods courses. Traditionally little attention is paid to early years, particularly in courses that cover broader age ranges such as K-7.
~Curriculum developers, because we will be showing how to link science, NGSS, and STEM for one topic in early childhood topic following a process that is transferable to other topics in the science curriculum.
~Early childhood educators, because the workshop activities will boost confidence in teaching to NGSS and accommodating a STEM perspective.
Expertise and Experience of Workshop Presenters
Christine D. Tippett, BASc (University of British Columbia), BEd (University of Victoria), MA (University of Victoria), PhD (University of Victoria), is an assistant professor of science education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. Chris was an engineer before she obtained her teaching degree, which influences her ways of thinking about science and STEM education. Her research interests include visual representations, science education for all students, and professional development for science educators (pre-service, in-service, and informal). Current projects focus on preservice science teachers’ images of engineers, early childhood STEM education, and assessment of representational competence. Chris has facilitated a number of professional development workshops for in-service teachers.
Todd M. Milford, BSc (University of Victoria), BEd (University of Victoria), Dip SpecEd (University of British Columbia), MEd (University of Victoria), PhD (University of Victoria), is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. He has science and special education teaching experience in the classroom and on-line. Todd has been teaching at the postsecondary level since 2005 primarily in the areas of science education, mathematics education, and classroom assessment. His research has been and continues to be varied; however, the constant theme is using data and data analysis to help teachers and students in the classroom. Todd has provided professional development in a variety of formats (workshops, team-teaching, presentations).
Resources and Details
There will be no cost to participants, although we will have Moomaw’s (2013) Teaching STEM in the Early Years available for purchase at a discounted price ($35). We can accommodate up to 24 people and we will provide all materials, although we will ask participants to bring wifi devices.