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Teaching STEM in the Preschool Classroom: Exploring Big Ideas with 3- to 5-Year-Olds


reviewed by Jennifer Cribbs & Adrienne Redmond-Sanogo - August 29, 2019

coverTitle: Teaching STEM in the Preschool Classroom: Exploring Big Ideas with 3- to 5-Year-Olds
Author(s): Alissa A. Lange, Kimberly Brenneman, & Hagit Mano
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807761362, Pages: 144, Year: 2019
Search for book at Amazon.com


While there have been numerous national initiatives to embed science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) into the P-12 curriculum, preschool is an area that has received less attention than other grade levels. Teaching STEM in the Preschool Classroom: Exploring Big Ideas with 3- to 5-Year Olds provides a timely, research-based, practical, and much-needed resource for educators to assist them in supporting children to “become the next generation of thinkers, builders, scientists, mathematicians, and STEM-literate citizens” (p. 3).

Lange, Brenneman, and Mano give a concise overview of STEM education and its role in a preschool setting by tying in research from several current sources (e.g., National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Science Teachers’ Association, Carol Dweck). However, it is the wealth of strategies throughout the book that could be applied in a variety of activities, the vignettes of teachers and children engaging in STEM explorations, and lists of additional resources that make this book a great tool for educators. The book is broken down into two parts. Part One includes Chapters One and Two, providing an overview of the book and important ideas to preface Part Two. Part Two is broken into four chapters that align with each of the STEM content areas.

Chapter One provides a rationale for the book and for embedding STEM in preschool settings, initial definitions for STEM, and details about how the book can be used to improve teaching. Chapter Two begins with a discussion of the beliefs and attitudes of teachers, students, and parents, and how these can affect children’s beliefs and attitudes. This chapter is particularly pertinent given the role that dispositions plays in children’s learning and engagement with STEM content areas. The second half of the chapter provides an overview of general and specific strategies for teaching STEM. General tips include strategies such as making mistakes, letting go, using tools in the classroom, involving families, and finding a support group. Some of the specific strategies include preparing in advance by reviewing concepts related to the lesson and anticipating student responses, have clear and focused objectives that are not too complex or numerous for students, allowing students to play with materials prior to planned activities, and assessing students’ understanding of concepts. A list of strategies that educators can refer to in general and for specific STEM topics extends the usefulness of this book as a resource for educators.

Chapters Three to Six focus on each of the STEM components individually. Within each of the chapters, an overview is given of a content area within the context of the preschool classroom, one activity is detailed, additional strategies and activities are briefly described, ideas for connections with children’s families are listed, additional resources are included (e.g., fiction and non-fiction books), and online resources and other possible related resources are provided. Chapters Three to Six also include four types of call-out boxes that provide nuggets of wisdom for teachers and include the following sections: Good to Know (research connections), Dynamic Differentiation (differentiation strategies), Super Strategies (important pedagogical strategies), and Creative Connections (thoughtful ways to connect to new learning). Additionally, at the end of each chapter, a set of reflection questions provide opportunities for educators to reflect on their own practice. These questions would also be appropriate to use in a book study, perhaps as part of a professional learning community. We will provide a brief description of each chapter below.

Chapter Three, focused on science, first provides a rationale for science being included in the preschool classroom. The chapter also describes the science practices along with a table describing how the practices align with what is happening in the classroom (i.e., a child’s possible thought process, teachers’ guiding questions, clarifying notes) as children make playdough. The rest of the chapter focuses on the flow of water activities followed by additional ideas and activities involving water. The topic of water was selected thoughtfully because it is a crosscutting concept in the Next Generation Science Standards, aligning to multiple areas of science.  

Chapter Four is focused on technology, with the authors defining technology in greater detail and sharing an example activity for how to help children develop an understanding of what technology is. There is a brief discussion on the connections technology has to math, science, and engineering. The rest of the chapter describes a technology-based activity centered on the topic of wind. Children explore the effects of wind ultimately designing a “new” technology to determine whether or not it is windy outside. The authors opted not to focus on digital media for their activities, which is a unique perspective on technology.

Chapter Five includes a discussion on engineering and begins by defining engineering in more detail and providing an overview of the engineering design process. The chapter goes on to discuss characteristics and skills that are important in engineering, including creative thinking, learning from failure, and collaborating with others. The rest of the chapter describes an activity where students need to find an alternative method of watering plants.

Chapter Six is focused on math, detailing the math content and practices/processes for preschool children in the classroom. The chapter also discusses learning trajectories and other important aspects for engaging children in learning mathematics in a preschool classroom, such as providing children with sufficient time and space to work with the content and discussing topics outside of just counting and shapes. The rest of the chapter discusses an activity where students explore different types of lines, which then moves into making two-dimensional shapes.

A criticism we have with the book is the lack of integration between the STEM areas for the activities shared in Chapters Three to Six. Although the authors discuss how activities within one content area often lend themselves to be easily integrated with other content areas, this integration is not demonstrated in the main activities shared. An integrated approach to STEM, “an experience that connects two or more disciplines within STEM, or connects at least one STEM discipline with a non-STEM discipline” is a recommendation provided in the report “A Vision for Innovation in STEM Education” for P-20 education (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement, 2016, p. 12). It is possible that this is a byproduct of the less is more approach and be clear and focused strategy that the authors focus on in the book.

A second criticism is the way that engineering is equated with building at the beginning of Chapter Five. This idea is a major misconception that children often have about engineering (Oware, Capobianco, & Diefes-Dux, 2007), so it is concerning that this impression may be reinforced here. However, as the chapter continues, there is less focus on the idea of building and more of a focus on the actual practice of engineering, such as identifying problems, brainstorming and planning, designing, testing and revising, and communicating ideas with others.

The third criticism we have is that the book is very science-heavy. In the first two chapters, science is the primary vehicle for discussion with mathematics examples thrown in occasionally, almost as an afterthought. Additionally, other than defining technology and engineering, these areas are minimally discussed. We believe that this may be due to the way the authors define the content areas. They seem to view technology as already embedded within every activity because students are using tools; however, we believe it warrants discussion. In addition, engineering seems to be discussed as a natural byproduct of doing science. However, when the authors move into the main activities, we think they are much more on target with their discussions and descriptions of technology and engineering.

In conclusion, despite the limitations described, Teaching STEM in the Preschool Classroom: Exploring Big Ideas with 3- to 5-Year Olds provides preschool teachers with an important foundation of effective practices as they explore teaching through STEM. The inclusion of fully developed lessons, effective differentiation strategies (especially for dual language learners), and resources make this book a valuable tool for any preschool classroom.

References

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement. (2016). STEM 2026: A vision for innovation in STEM education. Washington, DC: Author

Oware, E., Capobianco, B., & Diefes-Dux, H. A. (2007, October). Young children’s perceptions of engineers before and after a summer engineering outreach course. In 2007 37th Annual Frontiers In Education Conference-Global Engineering: Knowledge Without Borders, Opportunities Without Passports (pp. S2–3). New York, NY: IEEE.

 

 





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 29, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23070, Date Accessed: 1/23/2022 3:55:03 PM

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About the Author
  • Jennifer Cribbs
    Oklahoma State University
    E-mail Author
    JENNIFER CRIBBS is an Associate Professor in the School of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies at Oklahoma State University. Her research focus is on mathematics identity and student persistence in STEM. She also explores teachersí beliefs and practices and their connection to student affect. Dr. Cribbsí work appears in STEM education and educational psychology journals such as School Science and Mathematics, Child Development, Science Advances, Journal of Engineering Education, and The Mathematics Educator.
  • Adrienne Redmond-Sanogo
    Oklahoma State University
    E-mail Author
    ADRIENNE REDMOND-SANOGO is an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education and Senior Associate Dean of the College of Education, Health, and Aviation at Oklahoma State University. Much of her research and creative scholarly work has centered on connecting students to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by exploring interest, attitudes, content knowledge, technology integration, and access. She also co-authored several integrated STEM modules that have been published by NSTA (e.g., Sanogo, Parsons, Walton, Johnson, Peters-Burton, Utley, & Ivey, 2018). These integrated STEM modules incorporated science, technology, engineering, mathematics, language arts, social studies, and 21st-century skills to teach elementary and middle grades content.
 
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