STEM Learning with Young Children: Inquiry Teaching with Ramps and Pathways
reviewed by Jessica Shumway - February 02, 2017
Title: STEM Learning with Young Children: Inquiry Teaching with Ramps and Pathways
Author(s): Shelly Counsell, Lawrence Escalada, Rosemary Geiken, Melissa Sander, Jill Uhlenberg, Beth Van Meeteren, Sonia Yoshizawa, & Betty Zan
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807757497, Pages: 201, Year: 2016
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How capable are young children of seriously engaging in STEM investigations? How should teachers set up opportunities for them to participate in STEM activities? Should early grades teachers focus on literacy and mathematics instruction? What does formal STEM education look like in the early years? The authors of STEM Learning with Young Children: Inquiry Teaching with Ramps and Pathways provide educators with answers to these questions and guidance on how to implement STEM teaching and learning in early childhood classrooms.
The book chronicles a STEM-based approach that aims to engage young children in engineering design and scientific inquiry. A team of authors from the Regents Center for Early Developmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa wrote this volume. The team has studied and supported constructivist, inquiry-based early childhood STEM education for over two decades. This text represents the outcomes of their collaborative work. It also provides educators with a guide for an interdisciplinary approach to early childhood STEM education through the Ramps and Pathways (R&P) activities and materials.
R&P is an approach to designing experiences that engage students in science and engineering content and processes. In R&P activities, children use unit blocks, ramps, marbles, and other creative materials to build ramp structures to move objects. Using the specific content (e.g., force and motion) and context of R&P (e.g., building activities), the authors broadly describe ways for early childhood educators to infuse a STEM-based approach into their classrooms. Individual chapters within the book focus on providing the materials for R&P, engaging students in R&P activities, facilitating inquiry, providing opportunities to communicate ideas, integrating content areas (e.g., science, engineering, technology, mathematics, and literacy), capitalizing on socioemotional opportunities for growth, planning for diverse learners, and assessing childrens learning and development as a result of R&P activities.
This focus on R&P activities, rather than several different kinds of STEM activities, allows educators to deeply understand the recommendations within the context of R&P. The actions of delivering these R&P opportunities to children are generalizable to other STEM activities. This is the essence of an approach versus a curriculum. What is learned about teaching and learning through an inquiry stance using R&P materials and activities is not one-size-fits-all. Instead, it can be used with other materials and activities. A STEM approach is more sustainable and flexible than a curriculum of carefully sequenced lessons.
Chapters Six and Seven have particularly valuable resources for successful implementation of this STEM-based approach. Beth Van Meeteren, a former first-grade teacher and current director of the Regents Center, writes Chapter Six. She used R&P during her literacy block and describes ways R&P addresses the standards across various content areas (e.g., Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core State Standards for English, and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics). Van Meeteren states that, R&P fits the vision of the NGSS in kindergarten, [first], and [second] grades like a glove (p. 112). The sampling of ramp activity challenges (e.g., lessons) helps readers form a picture of teaching and learning possibilities. It also allows them to see what R&P activities look like in action with children. The author is careful to note that the activity challenges presented in her chapter are not intended for use as a sequential curriculum. Instead, these lessons provide readers with a framework they can begin to use. Similarly, in Chapter Seven, Jill Uhlenberg provides examples of assessment records that practitioners can easily implement in their classrooms.
The authors describe the Inquiry Teaching Model (ITM), which they use as a framework for talking about what teachers can do to support childrens inquiry and learning. ITM is rooted in science education and early childhood learning theories. Specifically, the authors locate their approach within the broader constructivist framework of engaging interests, observing childrens explorations, and allowing time and space for those explorations to occur. In terms of early childhood learning theories, ITM is based in the tradition of recognizing the role of play and exploration in the process of learning. The theoretical framework is presented in Chapter One of the book. Subsequent chapters refer to this model, providing a sense that the book is firmly rooted in an intellectual tradition. As a practitioner and researcher, I feel grounded in this framework throughout the book. However, I also find myself wanting more information about the research that led to R&P and the results that came out of studies focusing on it. A chapter dedicated to the research and theoretical findings supporting the R&P approach would have provided an even richer picture and more fully supported the premise of the book. However, while I feel this is lacking, as a teacher educator I also know that this book is intended for practitioners and practical applications in classrooms. As a guide for practitioners, the text is a valuable asset.
The authors summarize the importance of STEM-based education, provide a practical approach, and place it in the context of classrooms from the preschool to second-grade level. This book promotes a STEM-based approach in primary classrooms, where literacy and mathematics often dominate the curriculum, activities, and opportunities for learning. Using the standards we currently have already neatly compartmentalized (e.g., NGSS, CCSSM, CCSSE, and NAEYC), the authors show how the R&P approach easily integrates these standards, particularly through cross-cutting concepts. This lays the foundation for the authors argument that R&P experiences provide a context for science, mathematics, and literacy objectives. It also argues that student processes used in these experiences (e.g., communication, justification, and observations) are critical for all content areas. In these ways, STEM Learning with Young Children makes an important contribution to the field of early childhood STEM education.
Early childhood educators who are interested in moving away from a siloed approach to teaching content, looking to integrate across content areas, and making STEM education an important part of their classrooms should read this book. Using R&P could be an excellent entry point or foundation for educators seeking to better integrate content and infuse STEM learning into their classrooms.