Integrating STEM into Preschool Education; Designing a Professional Development Model in Diverse Settings

Abstract

High quality early childhood education and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning have gained recognition as key levers in the progress toward high quality education for all students. STEM activities can be an effective platform for providing rich learning experiences that are accessible to dual language learners and students from all backgrounds. To do this well, teachers need professional development on how to integrate STEM into preschool curricula, and how to design experiences that support the dual language learners in the classroom. To address this need, a professional development model was designed to empower preschool educators to provide rich, high-quality STEM learning experiences, with particular emphasis on working in schools serving children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This model was created based on best practices in adult learning and teacher professional development, on developmentally appropriate STEM concepts and teaching interactions, and in collaboration with educators to design professional supports that were responsive to their needs. We worked in under-resourced communities in a North East state in the United States to design a model that is culturally appropriate, and that is flexible enough to be implemented within any curricula and with a variety of materials. In this article, we outline the main components and the iterative design process we undertook to ensure that the professional supports are relevant and effective for teachers and children. Finally, the article presents feedback from educators who participated in the design and implementation of the model, as well as discussion of how our process can inform other teacher educators and those interested in promoting early STEM in diverse preschool settings.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Technology and engineering can be conceived as being a part of the larger umbrella of science (National Research Council 2012). We include the full STEM acronym here because we intentionally weave aspects of each throughout our approach.

  2. 2.

    Dual language learners (DLLs) are “children learning two (or more) languages at the same time, as well as those learning a second language while continuing to develop their first (or home) language” (Administration for Children and Families and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2013; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2017).

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Funding

This work was funded by a National Science Foundation Grant, DRL-1019576: Supports for Science and Mathematics Learning in Pre-Kindergarten Dual Language Learners: Designing a Professional Development System.

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Correspondence to Irena Nayfeld.

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Brenneman, K., Lange, A. & Nayfeld, I. Integrating STEM into Preschool Education; Designing a Professional Development Model in Diverse Settings. Early Childhood Educ J 47, 15–28 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-018-0912-z

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Keywords

  • Professional development
  • Early childhood
  • STEM
  • Teacher education
  • Preschool
  • Dual language learners
  • Coaching