Wednesday, August 29, 2012

STEM: A reflection on intentional teaching

“Unless the schools of the U.S. find the tools to bring students up to the highest level of accomplishment, it places the nation at risk in the international economy of the 21st Century.”
—Bill Gates

As our agency begins to think about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focused programming in early childhood, I'm forced to reflect on my beliefs about developmentally appropriate practices as well as intentional teaching.  It's no big secret that as a nation, we are outperformed by 30 countries.  My great struggle with this is that STEM seems to have become a buzz-word.  A phrase that makes people immediately look at their classroom and create lists of more crap stuff they want to add to their environments.  Why?!  In a time when budgets are tight, I get that we want to appeal to funders and stand out in a sea of early childhood programs claiming to be the next big thing.

The big idea with STEM is thinking paths.  As early childhood professionals, we should be striving to help children sharpen their critical thinking skills and become divergent thinkers.  Why must there only be one way to solve a problem?  I know that I want my students to become problems solvers who can explain how they came to a solution rather than throw back terms and memorized responses.  We're supporting children's engagement and enthusiasm for learning so they can carry that enthusiasm into public schools (sigh) where it will likely be tested on an on-going basis.  In short, I want my students to be lifelong learners.

Children aren't going to find passion and love of learning in worksheets, I know that for a fact.  Worksheets do nothing more than suck the soul from children and perhaps bide the teacher a moment of quiet.  Imagine the in-depth learning that takes place when a child manipulates, investigates, and learns the way things around her work.  That kind of learning lasts a lifetime.  Worksheets last until the stupid smiley face (or sadly, frowny face) is stamped on and thrown away.  I'll save my rant on why art as a receipt for child care is the dumbest thing ever for another day.

In conclusion, focus must be directed less on the materials and more on the teaching necessary to develop children's passion for learning, particularly in the areas of STEM.   Before we order another piece of "stuff", I suggest we turn our focus to the teachers with whom parents leave their children and provide them with the tools, resources, support, and professional development they deserve when charged with such a precious task.

Surely I'm not alone in this belief...
How are you working with children or teachers to develop enthusiasm for learning and/or focusing on STEM?

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