Insights (9)

Positive Affirmations in STEM

"As his mother and educator, it is essential to build his literacy experiences through books that represent people and characters that look like him." - Marye Vance. 

 

Marye and her son, Winston is taking a selfie

By Marye Vance

About the author:

Marye Vance is an early childhood professional educator, researcher, and parent with over 25 years of experience working with children and families. Her professional experiences include a Preschool Teacher, Mental Health professional for children, Program Coordinator for Smart Start, Technical Assistance Provider with a Resource and Referral Agency, Program Manager for Afterschool Programs, Child Protective Services Social Worker, Community College Instructor, and currently an Instructor in Early Childhood Education and Professional Development Coordinator of Teaching-Learning Center at Durham Technical Community College. She studied Elementary Education at Elizabeth-City State University, transferred to Winston-Salem State University receiving a Bachelor of Social Work degree. She obtained a Masters of Adult Education Degree with a concentration in Distance Education from the University of Phoenix. Currently, studying a Doctor of Education specializing in Performance Improvement Leadership. Recently inducted into The National Society of Leadership and Success. She’s co-authored publications and contributor to several literacy initiatives with Duke University Hospital NICU division and Book Harvest to name a few.

It is essential to build a child's self-worth to provide confidence in education. The aspirations and interests of children, in particular black and brown boys, are grounded in their community and culture. The first seed of confidence begins at home. Parents are widely considered a crucial part of their children's educational attainment and are arguably the closest to and most knowledgeable about their children's educational experiences. Research shows that parents' involvement in schools, their parenting practices, and socialization at home have both direct and indirect implications for children's academic outcomes (Banerjee, Harrell, & Johnson, 2011; Jeynes, 2007; Smalls, 2009).

Winston is playing a globe tellurionA firm believer in each one, teach one, providing Winston with positive aspirations through STEM has indeed grounded him in becoming a person full of imagination and charm. The book "I am smart, I am blessed, I can do anything!" by Alissa Holder & Zulekha Holder-Young provides aspirations for young black and brown boys to see themselves as capable human beings. Identity as an understanding of the self sits within a psychological orientation that, according to Erikson (1950, 1968), develops an integrated and functional sense of identity, which helps to unify the various aspects of an individual's life and to provide a sense of personal meaning and direction. According to Heidelberg (2013) stated, "this view of identity is important for individuals to provide a sense of personal self and direction and is the focus of those who are interested in the way in which individuals develop self-knowledge, self-construction, and self-discovery."Winston is sitting next to a table and playing play-doh

Winston loves the outdoors and all things dinosaurs. Since the precious age of two, his interest has been in dinosaurs. His interest in dinosaurs has grown to astrology. He loves to talk about the galaxy, stars, and the moon. His adventures outdoors expand to building spaceships for the dinosaurs to take off into space. Elements of the ground, such as the dirt, trees, and tiny insects that crawl in the earth, stimulate his interest. Digging for fossils and even singing a song or two about his adventure progress his love for science.

His science exploration evolved at the age of three, mixing solutions to stirring up a roaring lava volcano. Not only is experimental learning happening, but mathematics is as well. Is there an inventor on the rise? Garrett Morgan was a repairman and business owner. He invented the three-light traffic signal in 1923. He also invented the improved sewing machine and the gas mask. Winston learns about Mr. Morgan's inventions and many others, such as Henry Thomas Sampson, Jr., an inventor, and a nuclear engineer who invented the gamma-electric cell, which is the cell used in powering cell phones, in 1971 from Patrice McLaurin’s “Have you thanked an inventor today?”.In Winston's quest to explore science, he has built a solar robot and erupted a volcano for his dinosaurs.

As his mother and educator, it is essential to build his literacy experiences through books that represent people and characters that look like him. Not only is literacy the foundation of Winston's learning process, but instilling moral character plays a vital role in early learning experiences. All children can grow and build on what they have been taught and observed in life. By understanding the importance of education, the hope is that as his interest grows, his love for being the best person he is created to be.

References:

Banerjee, Meeta; Harrell, Zaje A T; Johnson, Deborah J.Journal of Youth and Adolescence; New York Vol. 40, Iss. 5, (May 2011): 595-605.

Siteine, A. (2013). 'Positive in their own identities?': Social studies and identity affirmation. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 48(2), 99-111. Retrieved from http://library.capella.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fscholarly-journals%2Fpositive-their-own-identities-social-studies%2Fdocview%2F1496657234%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D27965

Williams, A. D., Banerjee, M., Lozada-Smith, F., Lambouths, Danny, I., II, & Rowley, S. J. (2017). Black mothers' perceptions of the role of race in children's education. Journal of Marriage and Family, 79(4), 932-946. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12410

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“I can be a scientist! “

Storybook can be a powerful tool in building children's identify. Read the blog post and learn more!

Chih-ing Lim's headshot

By Chih-Ing Lim, PhD. 

Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

HsiuWen Yang's headshot

By Hsiu-Wen Yang, PhD. 

Technical Assistance Specialist at STEM Innovation to include in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

Do you know that the traffic lights were invented by a Black inventor, Garrett Morgan? I learned this and about many more Black scientists and inventors from a children’s book by Patrice McLaurin, Have you thanked an inventor today? 

Reading and discussing books that include diverse and positive representations of characters could help children find resemblances to the characters with similar backgrounds and see them as role models (Golos & Moses, 2011). Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor and author coined the phrase “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors” to explain how critical it is for children to see themselves in the books that they read, and how they can also learn about or step into the lives of others through books. This is important for all children, especially Black or Brown children with and without disabilities, who frequently do not see themselves in children’s literature.  

Storybooks can be a powerful tool in supporting children’s STEM learning and building their STEM identity and providing a more equitable access to STEM learning opportunities. Equity in STEM education is an ongoing challenge. Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights Data Collection (2018), we know that Black high schoolers are underrepresented in more advanced science and math courses, and similarly in science and engineering degree programs, and within the STEM workforce (National Science Board, 2022).  

But we as an early childhood field can change this trajectory right from the start by supporting Black children to build a positive STEM identity and a strong sense of belonging in STEM (Master et al., 2017). We have curated a list of books focused on Black pioneers and innovators in STEM or have Black characters that can offer the mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors for the children we work with: https://stemie.fpg.unc.edu/storybook-conversations-celebrating-black-stem. We have also created storybook conversation tip sheets for a few of the books from the list: Astro Girl (https://stemie.fpg.unc.edu/storybook-conversations-astro-girl), The Snowy Day (https://stemie.fpg.unc.edu/storybook-conversations-snowy-day). 

Later this month, we have a guest blogger who is an early childhood faculty and a proud mama of a 5-year old. She will share her personal experiences on how representation is so critical for her child when it comes to engaging him in books and STEM. 

If you are interested in Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s essay, it is available here: https://www.readingrockets.org/sites/default/files/Mirrors-Windows-and-Sliding-Glass-Doors.pdf  

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What is STEM?

What do we mean when we talk about STEM? Let's learn more from Dr. Harradine and Dr. Lim!

Christine Harradine's headshot

By Christine Harradine, PhD

PD Specialist at the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

Chihing Lim's headshot

By Chih-Ing Lim, PhD.

Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

STEM is an acronym created by the National Science Foundation for science, technology (computational thinking), engineering, and mathematics. In early childhood, STEM can be taught alone or integrated intentionally in groups of two or three, or with the arts, language, literacy, and social-emotional learning throughout a child’s typical routines and daily activities.

Science is the study of content knowledge (energy & matter, force & motion, light, living & non-living things, Earth & its properties, sound, structure & properties of matter, and weather) and cross-cutting concepts (cause & effect, compare & contrast, patterns, stability & change, structure & function, and systems & their interactions) through child-level processes (ask, engage, observe, classify, investigate, sort, describe, analyze & interpret, and reflect).​

The technology part of STEM is often confused with devices such as tablets and laptops. Educational technology is sometimes discussed as a tool to promote learning in any content area. The “T” in STEM is the introduction of underlying concepts of building or creating technology, including computational thinking, which is the basic logic underlying computer science (DOE & DHHS, 2016).​ Specifically, computational thinking is the method used to problem-solve by determining ‘what’ (sequencing, looping, repetition, decomposition, and causation), ‘how’ (debugging), and ‘why’ through child-level processes (ask, engage, observe, create, investigate, describe, document, analyze & interpret, and reflect).​ Drs. Lisa Wadors and Jessica Amsbary, STEMIE team members give tips for practicing computational thinking skills with young children in this podcast.

The word “engineering” comes from the Latin words ingenium (which means “cleverness”) and ingeniare (which means “to devise”). At its most basic level, engineering is a systematic way of designing solutions to problems. These solutions can be new or improvements on existing solutions. Science and mathematics – as well as real-world experience - are central components. 

Mathematics is the study of patterns in numbers and space, including the concepts, processes, and structures of counting and numbers, space and shape, and symmetry, as well as a set of math practices by which math knowledge is developed, refined, and applied.​

In order for STEM to happen, two more of these content areas mix with a real-world situation and hands-on exploration to solve a problem or create something new.

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The home is an exciting place for children to learn and grow. Many parents enjoy engaging in learning experiences with their children such as shared book reading and game playing. However, when it comes to making math a part of the learning experience, many parents are unsure where to begin. This blog post provides fun, practical math experiences that can be done at home to help children develop critical math skills.

Michele Stites' headshot

Dr. Michele Stites Susan Sonnenschein's headshot

Dr. Susan Sonnenschein

About the authors:

Dr. Michele Stites is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). She received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction/Special Education from the George Washington University and her M.Ed. in special education from the University of Maryland College Park. Prior to her appointment at UMBC, she was the early childhood intervention specialist for a large school system in Maryland. Dr. Stites was an early childhood classroom teacher for 10 years working in both general and special education settings. Dr. Stites’ research interests focus on inclusive mathematics teaching practices and young children’s mathematics learning. As an assistant professor at UMBC she also works closely with teacher candidates. Dr. Stites has been widely published in both scholarly and practitioner-focused journals.

Dr. Susan Sonnenschein is a Professor in the Psychology Department at UMBC and the Graduate Program Director of the Applied Developmental Psychology Doctoral program. She received an M.S. degree from Penn State University in Educational Psychology, a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Stony Brook University, and is a certified (state of Maryland) school psychologist. Her research interests focus on factors that promote children’s educational success. She conducts research on family and school-based factors and how they affect children from different demographic backgrounds. In addition to having several hundred scholarly publications and presentations, she has written blogs and summaries of her research for nonprofessional audiences. One focusing on math activities to do with young children was published in the Conversation in 2018, http://theconversation.com/5-math-skills-your-child-needs-to-get-ready-for-kindergarten-103194

The learning activities young children engage in at home lead to better academic skills. We know that children who read different types of books at home are more likely to develop foundational literacy skills (Sénéchal & LeFevre, 2002; Serpell et al., 2005). And, many parents are confident that they know how to help their children learn to read (Sonnenschein, et.al., 2021). But what about math? How comfortable are parents with fostering their children’s math skills at home?

We recently asked 236 parents of preschoolers how confident they were assisting their children with reading and math skills at home. And, what we found was not surprising. Most parents thought it was very important for their children to read (86%) and do math activities at home (68%). However, they viewed reading as more important than math. Why do they view reading as more important? It may have to do with confidence. Only 32% of parents in our study reported that they were very confident in their ability to support their child’s math learning.

Given what we know about the importance of reading to children, and the need for more math exposure in the home, we should  link the two together! Making learning fun for young children and engaging their interest in such learning is positively associated with better academic skills (Sonnenschein et al., 2016).  Drilling children on skills is not (Serpell et al., 2005).

Many parents are confident engaging in dialogic reading experiences with their children and with minimal effort we can easily add math into the experience. Many parents also shared with us that they want fun, play-based ways to foster math skills at home (e.g. NO worksheets!). Here are some practical ideas:

Linking Storybook Reading to Math

  1. Expose their children to a variety of reading genres (e.g., storybooks, informational text) and find the math in the story. You do not need math themed books to do this! Count the number of bunnies, talk about shapes, find patterns, etc. Be sure to use mathematical language (e.g. “more”, “equal”, etc.) when talking about a math topic because it increases skill development (Akinci-Coşgun, et.al., 2020; Stites & Brown, 2019).
  2. Use a math themed book. Books like Anno’s Counting book and Ten Magic Butterflies are mathematically themed. Take the time to explore the math content. Questions like, “How many in all?” and “what comes next?” are great with counting books. If the book focuses on a skill like addition work on additional equations. “Wow, we just answered 2 + 1=3. Do you know what 2+2 equals?”
  3. Make use of digital and adapted books. If a child has a disability, adapted books are a great way to remove some of the barriers in traditional print books. In fact, all children, not just those with disabilities, often respond to the  different formats provided in these books.

Play-Based Math Learning

  1. Play board games. Games have been shown to be an effective way to engage with numbers and patterns. Take the time to question the child about numbers, shapes, and patterns.
  2. Take a nature walk. Notice the shapes in the leave. Count the clouds. The world is your oyster here!
  3. Build with blocks or Legos. Count the items and make patterns. Ask the child what comes next and how many there are altogether. Take some away and ask how many are left. Make shapes!
  4. Draw and create art. As the child is drawing ask her to make three more flowers. Use playdough and make shapes and patterns. And talk about the shapes the child and you create. The language used matters!

References

  1. Akinci-Coşgun, A, Stites, M.L., & Sonnenschein, S. (2020). Using storybooks to support young children’s mathematics learning at school and home. In Bekir, H., Bayraktar, V., & Karaçelik, S.N. (Eds.), Development in Education. Istanbul, Turkey: Hiperlink.
  2. Sénéchal, M., & LeFevre, J. A. (2002). Parental involvement in the development of children’s reading skill: A five-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 73 , 445–461.
  3. Serpell, R., Baker, L. & Sonnenschein, S. (2005). Becoming literate in the city: The Baltimore Early Childhood Project. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Sonnenschein, S., Metzger, S. R., & Thompson, J. A. (2016). Low-income parents’ socialization of their preschoolers’ early reading and math skills. Research in Human Development, 13, 207-224. doi: 10.1080/15427609.2016.1194707
  5. Sonnenschein, S., Stites, M.L., & Dowling, R. (2021).  Learning at home: What preschool parents do and what they want to learn from their children’s teachers? Journal of Early Childhood Research. doi:10.1177/1476718X20971321
  6. Stites, M.L. & Brown, E.T. (2019). Observing mathematical learning experiences in preschool.  Early Child Development and Care. doi:10.1080/03004430.2019.1601089.
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At the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education (STEMI2E2) center, we are developing and enhancing the knowledge on the practices and supports necessary to improve access and participation within  early STEM learning  opportunities. But many of you may question why STEM is so important in the early years. This week, we invited Dr. Clements and Dr. Sarama to share their insights with us.

About the Authors
Douglas H. Clements's headshot Douglas H. Clements, Ph.D.
Dr. Clements received his PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Previously a preschool and kindergarten teacher, he has conducted funded research and published over 500 articles and books in the areas of the learning and teaching of early mathematics and computer applications in mathematics education.

Julie Sarama's headshotJulie Sarama, Ph.D.
Dr. Sarama received her PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Dr. Sarama has taught secondary mathematics and computer science, gifted math at the middle school level, preschool and kindergarten mathematics enrichment classes, and mathematics methods and content courses for elementary to secondary teachers. She designed and programmed over 50 published computer programs, including her version of Logo and Logo-based software activities (Turtle Math™, which was awarded Technology & Learning Software of the Year award, 1995, in the category "Math"). 

How important is doing STEM in the early years…really? If my children do more STEM, will it make a difference later?

Absolutely, but you don’t have to take our word for it!  STEM in the early years has been found by researchers to be surprisingly important for development through life.

Let’s take a look at math first. The math children know when they enter kindergarten predicts their math achievement for years to come 1 out to 10th grade 2. Math also predicts later success in reading,1,3 so math appears to be a core component of cognition. Further, knowledge of math in the early years is the best predictor of graduating high school 4. One more: Number and arithmetic knowledge at age 7 years predicts socioeconomic status at age 42, even controlling for all other variables.5  These predictions may show that math concepts and skills are important to all of school and life. However,  math is much more: Math is critical thinking and problem-solving, and high-quality math experiences also promote social and emotional development, literacy, and general brain development!6,7,8,9 No wonder early STEM experience predicts later success.

Inside children, language and STEM are “best friends.”  That is, connections between the development of math and literacy are numerous and it’s a “two-way street”.10,11,12 The more math language children learn, such as “more,” less, “behind,” “above” and number and shape words, the more math children learn.13 More surprising, preschoolers’ narrative abilities, particularly their ability to convey all the main events of the story, offer a perspective on the events in the story, and relate the main events of the story to their lives, predict math achievement two years later.14 And, going the other way on this street, children who experience more high-quality mathematics in preschool grow in their expressive oral language abilities (measured by assessments devoid of any math vocabulary15). In another study in the UK, doing math increased later scores on English by 14 percentile points.16 

The same is true with science. First, early science matters to later science. Children who have primary-grade teachers trained in the U.S. science framework17 score significantly higher than their peers in fifth grade.18 Second, science activities excite children’s “STEM talk” that reflects scientific reasoning, including observing, predicting, comparing, explaining, and generalizing19. And reading for comprehension and reading-to-learn requires concepts and knowledge of the world, both of which STEM provides.20  Doing more science increases primary-grade children’s science, and math, and reading scores.21

Not just language, but many cognitive and affective, or emotional outcomes improve with STEM. Let’s consider two: executive function (EF) and approaches to learning. EF, including cognitive flexibility, updating working memory, and response inhibition, is one of the most important general cognitive abilities. EF is highly related to academic success 22 and particularly important to children with disabilities 23 as well as to children from low-resource communities. Research also has confirmed the importance of engagement in learning or approaches to learning. In one study, it was the single best predictor of learning as far out as fifth grade 24 ). Such engagement in learning, including persistence at tasks, eagerness to learn, attentiveness, learning independence, flexibility, and organization, was especially important for girls and minority students. 

The good news is, high-quality STEM may develop both!22 For example, EF predicts math22 and predicts science learning.25 Early STEM offers a fruitful context to foster EF and approaches-to-learning in many ways: 26,27 

•    STEM elicits children’s natural curiosity about the world.

•    STEM providing a unique opportunity to engage children in hands-on learning experiences. These experiences promote critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, persistence, and other adaptive domain-general learning skills such as EF.

In solving STEM problems, children make observations, engage in rich conversations with teachers and other children, and think flexibly to come up with predictions and solutions to their problems. Inherent to STEM is the expectation that we learn from failures and mistakes.28 Children learn to try and try again, practicing risk-taking, persistence, tolerance for frustration, and maintaining focus. 26,27

References

  1. Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., . . . Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428–1446. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.43.6.1428
  2. Stevenson, H. W., & Newman, R. S. (1986). Long-term prediction of achievement and attitudes in mathematics and reading. Child Development, 57(3), 646–659. doi: 10.2307/1130343
  3. Duncan, G. J., & Magnuson, K. (2011). The nature and impact of early achievement skills, attention skills, and behavior problems. In G. J. Duncan & R. Murnane (Eds.), Whither opportunity? Rising inequality and the uncertain life chances of low-income children (pp. 47–70). New York, NY: Sage.
  4. McCoy, D. C., Yoshikawa, H., Ziol-Guest, K. M., Duncan, G. J., Schindler, H. S., Magnuson, K., . . . Shonkoff, J. P. (2017). Impacts of early childhood education on medium- and long-term educational outcomes. Educational Researcher, 46(8), 474–487. doi: 10.3102/0013189x17737739
  5. Ritchie, S. J., & Bates, T. C. (2013). Enduring links from childhood mathematics and reading achievement to adult socioeconomic status. Psychological Science, 24, 1301–1308. doi: 10.1177/0956797612466268
  6. Aydogan, C., Plummer, C., Kang, S. J., Bilbrey, C., Farran, D. C., & Lipsey, M. W. (2005, June 5-8). An investigation of prekindergarten curricula: Influences on classroom characteristics and child engagement. Paper presented at the NAEYC, Washington, DC.
  7. Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Layzer, C., Unlu, F., & Fesler, L. (2020). Effects on mathematics and executive function of a mathematics and play intervention versus mathematics alone. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 51(3), 301-333. doi: 10.5951/jresemtheduc-2019-0069
  8. Dumas, D., McNeish, D., Sarama, J., & Clements, D. (2019). Preschool mathematics intervention can significantly improve student learning trajectories through elementary school. AERA Open, 5(4), 1–5. doi: 10.1177/2332858419879446
  9. Sarama, J., Lange, A., Clements, D. H., & Wolfe, C. B. (2012). The impacts of an early mathematics curriculum on emerging literacy and language. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(3), 489–502. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.12.002
  10. McGraw, A. L., Ganley, C. M., Powell, S. R., Purpura, D. J., Schoen, R. C., & Schatschneider, C. (2019, March). An investigation of mathematics language and its relation with mathematics and reading . Paper presented at the 2019 SRCD Biennial Meeting, Baltimore, MD.
  11. Purpura, D. J., Day, E., Napoli, A. R., & Hart, S. A. (2017). Identifying domain-general and domain-specific predictors of low mathematics performance: A classification and regression tree analysis. Journal of Numerical Cognition, 3(2), 365–399. doi: 10.5964/jnc.v3i2.53
  12. Purpura, D. J., & Napoli, A. R. (in press). Early numeracy and literacy: Untangling the relation between specific components. Mathematical Thinking and Learning.
  13. Toll, S. W. M., & Van Luit, J. E. H. (2014). Explaining numeracy development in weak performing kindergartners. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 124C, 97–111. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.02.001
  14. O'Neill, D. K., Pearce, M. J., & Pick, J. L. (2004)Predictive relations between aspects of preschool children’s narratives and performance on the Peabody Individualized Achievement Test - Revised: Evidence of a relation between early narrative and later mathematical ability. First Language, 24, 149-183.
  15. Sarama, J., Lange, A., Clements, D. H., and Wolfe, C. B. (2012). The Impacts of an Early Mathematics Curriculum on Emerging Literacy and Language. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 489-502. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.12.002.
  16. Shayer, M. & Adhami, M. (2010). Realizing the cognitive potential of children 5–7 with a mathematics focus: Post‐test and long‐term effects of a 2‐year intervention. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 363–379.
  17. National Research Council. (2011). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
  18. Kaderavek, J. N., Paprzycki, P., Czerniak, C. M., Hapgood, S., Mentzer, G., Molitor, S., & Mendenhall, R. (2020). Longitudinal impact of early childhood science instruction on 5th grade science achievement. International Journal of Science Education, 1-20. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2020.1749908
  19. Henrichs, L. F., Leseman, P. P. M., Broekhof, K., & Cohen de Lara, H. (2011). Kindergarten talk about science and technology. In M. J. de Vries, H. van Keulen, S. Peters & J. W. van der Molen (Eds.), Professional development for primary teachers in science and technology: The Dutch VTB-Pro project in an international perspective (pp. 217–227). Boston: Sense.
  20. McClure, E. R., Guernsey, L., Clements, D. H., Bales, S. N., Nichols, J., Kendall-Taylor, N., & Levine, M. H. (2017). STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in early childhood. New York: NY: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.
  21. Paprzycki, P., Tuttle, N., Czerniak, C. M., Molitor, S., Kadervaek, J., & Mendenhall, R. (2017). The impact of a framework‐aligned science professional development program on literacy and mathematics achievement of K‐3 students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54(9), 1174–1196. doi: 10.1002/tea.21400
  22. Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., & Germeroth, C. (2016). Learning executive function and early mathematics: Directions of causal relations. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36(3), 79–90. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.12.009
  23. Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2019). Executive function and early mathematical learning difficulties. In A. Fritz, V. G. Haase & P. Räsänen (Eds.), International handbook of mathematical learning difficulties: From the laboratory to the classroom (pp. 755–771). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
  24. Bodovski, K., & Youn, M.-J. (2011). The long term effects of early acquired skills and behaviors on young children’s achievement in literacy and mathematics. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(1), 4–19.
  25. Nayfeld, I., Fuccillo, J., & Greenfield, D. B. (2013). Executive functions in early learning: Extending the relationship between executive functions and school readiness to science. Learning and Individual Differences, 26, 81–88. doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2013.04.011
  26. Bustamante, A. S., Greenfield, D., & Nayfeld, I. (2018). Early childhood science and engineering: Engaging platforms for fostering domain-general learning skills. Education Sciences, 8(3), 144. doi: 10.3390/educsci8030144
  27. Bustamante, A. S., White, L. J., & Greenfield, D. B. (2018). Approaches to learning and science education in Head Start: Examining bidirectionality. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 44, 34–42. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.02.013
  28. Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York, NY: Basic Books.
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At the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education (STEMI2E2) center, one of the first tasks we did was to take a look at what kind of research evidence exists in STEM learning and young children with disabilities. We conducted a scoping review and found that a majority of the references were related to children of preschool age (3-4 years old). Very few discussed infants/toddlers and children with disabilities.

Christine Harradine's headshot

By Christine Harradine, PhD

PD Specialist at the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

One of the first tasks we did when we started our work a year ago was to take a look at what kind of research evidence exists in STEM learning and young children with disabilities. We conducted an extensive review of the research – called a scoping review – to see what we could find.  We searched 102 different sources such as databases, direct searches of journals, reports, conference proceedings, master’s theses, presentation transcripts, films, and dissertations) with 20 search terms.  This yielded 1,407 unique references, which two-person teams independently reviewed for exclusion based on age and topic. We ended up with 486 unique references, which we categorized in several ways.

The scoping review found that the vast majority (92.6%) of these 486 references were related to children of preschool age (3-4 years old). Very few discussed infants (1.9%) or toddlers (1%). 

We also wanted to know if these 486 references covered young children with disabilities. We allowed the search to cover STEM learning in all early care arrangements (e.g., home, child care, preschool, Head Start, etc.) for all children with and without disabilities, ages birth to five years. Only 6% (n=29) of the references we found referred to children with disabilities. 
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Perspectives: Inclusion Right from the Start

Meet Alex, a fifth-grader, who found math challenging when he was younger. But now is acing Math classes with a little help from a calculator and lots of encouragement and support from people who believe in what he CAN do.

Chih-ing lim's headshotby
Chih-Ing Lim,  PhD.
Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

In my blog post on September 19, 2019, I discussed the disparity in STEM learning opportunities for children with disabilities. We know from research that teaching and learning early science and math is associated with later achievement. We also have research that tells us that preschool mathematics knowledge predicts adults' earning potential (Geary et al., 2013). Given all these, why do we continue to deny children, especially those with disabilities the opportunity to develop their STEM knowledge and skills?

Meet Alex, a fifth-grader, who found math challenging when he was younger. But now he is acing Math classes with a little help from a calculator and support from people who believe in what he CAN do. In Alex’s own words, he shared, “I'm so lucky to be surrounded by people who believe in me and support me. I just wish every kid with a disability can have the same opportunities and experiences as me.”

Watch Alex in action. 

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At the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education (STEMI2E2) center, we are developing and validating learning trajectories for science, technology, and, engineering. At the same time, we are improving existing trajectories for math. Why are learning trajectories critical to early childhood educators? Learning trajectories help educators understand how children think and learn about STEM topics and at the same time, how to support progressions in child thinking and learning.

About the Authors
Douglas H. Clements'' headshot Douglas H. Clements, Ph.D.
Dr. Clements received his PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Previously a preschool and kindergarten teacher, he has conducted funded research and published over 500 articles and books in the areas of the learning and teaching of early mathematics and computer applications in mathematics education.

Julie Sarama's headshotJulie Sarama, Ph.D.
Dr. Sarama received her PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Dr. Sarama has taught secondary mathematics and computer science, gifted math at the middle school level, preschool and kindergarten mathematics enrichment classes, and mathematics methods and content courses for elementary to secondary teachers. She designed and programmed over 50 published computer programs, including her version of Logo and Logo-based software activities (Turtle Math™, which was awarded Technology & Learning Software of the Year award, 1995, in the category "Math").

WHAT ARE LEARNING TRAJECTORIES?

Research-based learning trajectories include three parts:

  1. a goal,
  2. a developmental progression, and
  3. teaching.

The goal is grounded in content knowledge of the topic (for example science, technology, engineering, or math). To reach the goal, children learn each successive level of thinking in the developmental progression. Children move through the progression via teaching designed to build understanding and skill that enables thinking at each higher level. Teaching includes the environment, interactions, and activities. At the core of learning trajectories is children’s thinking and learning. So, their educational experiences are sure to be developmentally appropriate.

EXAMPLE

For example, we know that most young children learn to keep one-to-one correspondence up to about 5 objects in a line before they learn that the last counting word tells how many in the set the counting, and only later how to keep one-to-one correspondence in unordered sets of objects. This is just a small section of the developmental progression for counting illustrating how it can help sharpen our observation skills and help us plan informal and more intentional activities.
As this example suggests, learning trajectories are well developed in mathematics (and some non-STEM fields such as literacy). But we are also learning how children develop and understanding of science and engineering concepts. So learning trajectories can guide teaching in all STEM domains.

PRACTICE POTENTIAL FOR YOUNG CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

For early childhood educators, assessing, understanding, and teaching with learning trajectories based on the developmental sequences described here is especially important for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities might be operating at levels different from their peers. They may be at quite different levels in one topic (say, counting) than others (such as geometry). Because learning trajectories offer several “ways into” important topics like arithmetic (e.g., counting, subitizing, partitioning), children can build on their strengths. At the same time, they can make developmental progress in other topics. Also, learning trajectories’ levels are broader ways of thinking (e.g., to get to the next level), rather than narrower skills. So, children can both learn and show competencies in each level using a variety of modalities and representations. Most importantly, learning trajectories can be aligned with formative assessment and the Individualized Education Program (IEP) or the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) process.

Most early childhood professionals agree in general with the notion of “meeting each child where they are.” But, in STEM fields especially, few have been supported in understanding a developmental (formative) path that:

  1. describes and explains where children’s level of thinking is,
  2. what the next challenging, but achievable, level is, and
  3. how to support, children, including making accommodations and modifications for
    those with disabilities, to accomplish their goals.

 

Formative Assessment
(Strategy) 

Learning Trajectories
(Technique)

Where are you trying to go?

Goal

Where are you now?

Developmental Progression

How do you get there?

Teaching (activities)

 

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Children can develop the foundations for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning right from infancy. Yet children with developmental delays and disabilities are especially denied opportunities to learn STEM.  By the time children get to high school, the disparity in STEM learning is very obvious (see chart below).  Data from the Department of Education show a large disparity in enrollment in STEM courses between high school students with (IDEA) and without a disability.

Chih-ing lim's headshotby
Chih-Ing Lim,  PhD.
Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

For us as a field, this presents opportunity for improvement in early childhood STEM learning. We know preschoolers’ free play involves STEM skills as they explore patterns and shapes; engineer with various materials; and explore scientific concepts. Even infants and toddlers’ exploration of the world around them is STEM-related — as they experiment with concepts of cause and effect, shapes, and experience with their senses. We also know families are children's first and longest lasting teachers. Families are more likely to implement and use intervention practices when they understand the benefits. Yet, how do we move the dial more toward including young children with disabilities in STEM learning? One way is to center instruction around learning trajectories or developmental progression. We’ll talk about the process more in future posts. Doing so focuses practitioners’ attention on children’s thinking and learning rather than their memberships in diverse groups (e.g., racially, ability). Using learning trajectories also helps avoid perceptions that can negatively affect early childhood STEM teaching and learning.


US department of education data that illustrates the percent of high school students enrolled in STEM courses

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