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Engineering in Early Childhood

I have been around for many years and the education community always grabs on to the latest trend in teaching strategies. The education world has been trying to reinforce support in math and science since Russia launched the Sputnik in the 1950s. Everyone is all about STEM or STEAM education right now. As far as I’m concerned, every school should be a STEAM school. We should always be mindful of every subject domain when working with and supporting young children. As I travel the country right now, many early childhood workshops and conferences want to concentrate on STEM education. I don’t usually mind reinventing the wheel as long as it gets teachers to evaluate their individual settings and strive to improve the content and teaching. What I have found with the science and math portions of STEM is that most teachers do STEM activities. However, many do not form their teaching activities into something that supports engineering thinking or standards, as well. Those three domains are so closely related that when I am working with science and math, I can create an engineering approach that will support a STEM education and critical thinking. Here are some things that I think about when I give children a set of blocks and encourage them to work on their math, science, and ‘engineering’ skills:

  1. Suggest that the children plan out their activity before doing it (and provide the appropriate materials), particularly when they are using materials such as blocks?

  2. Allow the children)[ to draw what they plan to create.

  3. Have the children build their project or organize the activity.

  4. Make note, or have the children watch, for changes that they have to make when they actually build it.(Often the blocks do not do exactly what they had planned or they do not have enough materials to make it as planned.)

  5. When the projects are complete, review what happened. Guide the children through thinking about how they worked through the activity.

Activities such as this can add great depth to a child’s thinking, particularly if he is allowed to be part of a working group. I’m convinced that most teachers do engineering activities in their classrooms, but don’t realize the importance of planning and reviewing. One aspect of High Scope that I love is their philosophy of plan-do-review. That philosophy is a great foundation for building critical thinking skills.

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