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Turning STEM education into child’s play

Education programs throughout the country, from childcare through post-secondary levels, have embraced STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, a national initiative launched to cultivate the high levels of skill and competence demanded by the modern global workplace. Businesses and community groups have taken the cue, supplying preschools and community centers with computers and new technologies. As laptops and tablets are being placed into younger and younger hands, recent stories  appearing in the Boston Globe and on Fox Boston looked at the ways that preschools and childcare centers are adapting to an increasingly technology-driven world.

In recent years, Head Start, the federally funded program that promotes school readiness, has exhibited a growing focus on science, with ramped up efforts to tie STEM education to early childhood lesson plans by emphasizing the natural math and science concepts which already exist in a child’s daily activities. Describing weather or playing with blocks, sand and water tables pose opportunities to teach pattern recognition; work on counting, measuring and estimation; and even introduce physics.

Ruth-Ann Rasbold is the consortium manager of the Early Childhood Development group at the UMass Donahue Institute. Rasbold and her staff of regional trainers provide training and planning support to Head Start managers, teachers, home visitors and parents in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire in a variety of areas, including STEM learning.

This past fall, the consortium held a mini-conference and workshop for Head Start programs in New Hampshire and Vermont. To address what Rasbold describes as “STEM-shy” teachers and supervisors, The Nature of Science in Early Childhood seminar discussed how children learn and shared strategies for incorporating scientific inquiry into class activities, specifically through blocks and building structures.

Later this spring, the workshop Growing Up Wild will be held for early childhood educators in Vermont and in New Hampshire, focusing on integrating nature and wildlife into preschool lesson plans. In Connecticut, trainers are using Head Start’s recently published High Five Mathematize, which provides ideas for developing lessons on spatial concepts, shape recognition and basic geometry. Trainers are also working with the planners of this year’s Regional Head Start conference (May 8-10, Plymouth MA) which will feature a Keynote by Brian Wells of Raytheon, as well as STEM workshops for educators and parents.

For more information on the ways that teachers and trainers are incorporating STEM into Head Start programs in the New England area, contact Ruth-Ann Rasbold.

The Massachusetts STEM Summit will take place on October 18, 2012.

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