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Engineering Preschool Learning
Posted 12/06/2014 01:38PM

Last year the Flying Lion took readers on a walk through the Beginning School to see young scientists and mathematicians at work. We told you about the various tools and instruments Beginning School children were using to discover and learn concepts in architecture and engineering. Tools such as a wind tunnel, adaptable ramps and balls, and a captivating assortment of blocks were enough to get the ball rolling.

This year, the division is taking the idea one step further. Beginning School Principal Carol Blackwell and Rowland Hall’s Director of Technology Integration Christian Waters collaborated to identify and procure new classroom materials and provide summer in-service training for Beginning School teachers to explore technology uses in the classroom.

“There are so many options with new technologies and marketing that the early childhood field is overflowing with materials for teachers and parents,” Principal Blackwell said. “It is important in the Beginning School to use technology in carefully selected ways to enhance children's thinking.” 

Ms. Blackwell pointed to an AP story in the Salt Lake Tribune (Oct 1, 2014) about a coding app for children. "We don't want necessarily every young child to become a computer scientist or to work as an engineer," said Marina Umaschi Bers, codeveloper of the ScratchJr app, "but we want every young child to be exposed to these new ways of thinking that coding makes possible."

In addition to last summer’s in-service training, throughout the academic year, Mr. Waters visits individual classrooms to introduce materials to students and model for teachers ways to fully explore their use.

“Students and teachers are learning directly from Mr. Waters,” Principal Blackwell said.

Recently, Fine Print observed Mr. Waters introducing the fundamentals of electricity to students in a kindergarten classroom using “conductive play dough.” There were gasps of excitement and plenty of laughter as Mr. Waters sketched out the flow of electric current along a conductor—adding a happy face to the completed circuit. Mr. Waters then sat with three children at a time, to galvanize the theory through hands-on learning. More than play dough circuits lit up that day!

“The electricity work in kindergarten is designed to build a foundation of experiences that will support later understanding in future grades when children explore electricity in a more formal way,” Ms. Blackwell explained.

To increase teacher knowledge, the Beginning School participated in professional development activities in August with Dr. Beth Van Meeteren,* an expert on early childhood STEM education. Dr. Van Meeteren said she was impressed with the Beginning School teachers’ knowledge and developmentally appropriate practices."

“We want teachers to use their knowledge of how children learn in developmentally appropriate ways in determining what new technology choices to include for classroom use,” Ms. Blackwell said. “For example, providing iPad apps that merely entertain children would not be an acceptable choice, but an iPad application that helps expand the way a child thinks or creates would be a good choice.”

All year long, Beginning School teachers provide opportunities for children to explore ways to think like engineers. "Discovering a problem, planning a solution, testing a solution, and sharing the results, all advance children's thinking skills," Ms. Blackwell said.

Other recently purchased materials include: a computerized robot, scheduled to arrive in the fall;
 an iPad program; 
a wind machine;
 an armadillo stuffed animal that rides a skateboard down inclines;
 mini sandbags (4Prek is exploring how to build water channels in the sandbox by utilizing miniature sandbags);
 various sized ramps and balls; and 
water funnels and tubing.

*Dr. Van Meeteren is the director of the Early Childhood Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math program at Northern Iowa University.

If You Want To Know More:
Revealing the Work of Young Engineers in Early Childhood Education by Dr. Van Meeteren

Teaching Young Children Vol 7 No 3 Page 30 (an NAEYC publication)

Full STEAM AHEAD: Preschoolers as Engineers by Maureen Ingram

720 S. Guardsman Way | Salt Lake City, Utah 84108
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