Introduction to STEAM in Early Childhood

post by Camille Harrison

When I first jumped into a new role at my school as STEAM Integrator and Materials Librarian, the maker movement was in full swing. Makers are those who make, create, adapt and try to innovate in a variety of ways not limited to the more showy tech marvels so often highlighted on the pages of Make Magazine (https://makezine.com).

STEAM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math. It’s an evolution and in some cases an alternative to STEM, which doesn’t include art. I am most often asked why STEAM not STEM. For me, the addition of art doesn’t take away from the need or desire to highlight and encourage students to seek out the STEM fields. Rather the addition of art serves as an additional entry point for students who might not be inclined towards STEM topics. Moreover, I often encourage and challenge my students to see the many ways artists use principles of science, engineering, technology, and especially math in the things they create.

Although I don’t have dedicated class time with PreK and kindergarten students I do have time to collaborate with classroom teachers. What I have discovered is that by design most PreK units are innately STEAMy. For example, kindergarten students will be studying the Post Office in Social Studies which will spur the idea of creating a Postal Service for our school. From there dedicating time for students to create stamps, learn how to address envelopes and write letters, build post office boxes and then participate in picking up, sorting and delivering mail is what STEAM is all about.

First and second grade students have dedicated “STEAM” time as a special class once every six days in half groups for a 45-minute period (Note: Our school using a six-day cycle instead of a weekly calendar for classes.) In this class I focus on activities that introduce students to problem-solving in a hands-on way that most often connects to something they are studying in their classroom or in another special like science or art. Over the years we have developed a schoolwide design process that uses the language derived from our very own PreK classrooms: think, plan, do, review.

The Berkeley Carroll Design Process was developing with the goal to use language that would be familiar to students in PreK all the way to 12th grade.

In first grade students are first exposed to this through a problem I pose to them. My daughter loves bananas, so I often carry one with me in case she needs a quick snack. Bananas are great because you don’t need any utensils to eat them, and they are easy to carry because you don’t have to wash before you eat either. But the bad thing about bananas is that the can get bruised and mushy very quickly. From there I tell them about the first time I accidentally mushed a banana in my bag. I challenge them to help figure out a solution to my problem. From there they think about solutions and questions that they need more information about; draft a plan; build a prototype; and finally we test their creations.

 

First grade students working on their first prototype project. Students first learned about the problem, then brainstormed ideas and created a plan for their prototype. Materials they could use for their prototype include: toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, plastic cups and paper plates.

STEAM projects in early childhood can be as big as creating a schoolwide postal service to as small as giving students an opportunity to recreate something they learned about. What I have discovered is that the best projects are those that give students enough room to be creative, get messy, and connect to at least one concept they are learning in another subject.

 

Camille Harrison

Camille Harrison, M.A., is the STEAM integrator and materials librarian at the Berkeley Carroll Lower School in Brooklyn, New York. In this role, she helps teachers and students explore connections between the STEAM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, art and math) and fosters the development of coding, tinkering and creative problem-solving skills in young learners through integrated, multi-disciplinary projects and activities. Harrison also maintains the STEAM Hub space and curates the materials library for teachers, preschoolers, kindergarteners and elementary schoolers at the Berkeley Carroll Lower School. She has shared her strategies for providing richly integrated STEAM-powered learning experiences with lower-school teachers and administrators at professional development workshops sponsored by the New York State Association of Independent Schools. Harrison holds a master’s degree in library and information science with library media specialist certification from the Pratt Institute and a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts and sociology from Syracuse University.

Read more posts by Camille Harrison

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