STEM for Preschool

The merging of all my posts into one feed has uncovered some old drafts that never got published. Here's one from last year.

Kidzone Discovery School - a place that is and people who are very very dear to our family - invited me to serve as a speaker for one of their professional development days last spring. In response to the administrators' research in best practices for young children, they asked that the focus be on STEM for Preschool. STEM, as some of you may know, is the emphasis on and intersection of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEAM is the newest version of this, incorporating Art into the mix.

STEM/STEAM-focused learning activities are pretty on trend right now for K-12 education. At the onset of planning, my approach was taking something complex and simplifying it for preschool purposes and I anticipated some challenges in that area. Would I be able to find enough "lower-level" activities to pull this off?

As it turned out, STEM is so perfectly aligned to instructional strategies appropriate for preschool that there was no shortage but rather an abundance of options for this workshop. Polling together my own personal children's STEM-type tools as well as some materials provided by the preschool made for a powerful, hands-on workshop that the teachers seemed to truly enjoy.

I started off with an interactive quiz to determine that audience's level of familiarity with STEM. We had some basic understanding but for most participants, this concept was entirely new. Then I gave a quick talk on the origin of the STEM movement and how this method of instruction helps nurture curiosity, initiative, and critical thinking skills in our kids. The next chunk of time we spent rotating through stations so that everyone had an opportunity to try out (and evaluate) some activities for appropriateness in relation to their specific age groups. Each station had a challenge/task card with just enough instructions to enable self-sufficiency in exploring the activity.

1. In this challenge, teachers were given rolls of tin foil and were asked to design a boat that would float. They experimented with design of their vessels, and even took on the extra challenge of adding cargo (pennies) to see how that would alter their boat's function.

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2. The next station was simply a box of Magformers. These are magnetized geometric shapes that can be clipped together to build designs from the included idea book or users can branch off and design a structure according to their own specifications.

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3. The next station was creating chemical reactions with baking soda, food coloring, and vinegar. The teachers could use droppers to pull out colored vinegar and create artistic chemical reactions by adding it to the pans of baking soda. Younger kids love this activity, and as long as you prep ahead of time with disposable trays and garbage bags, clean-up can be kept to a minimum.

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4. This was the most advanced STEM activity of the session. The participants were challenged to use tin foil, pins/hot glue, and streamers/ribbon to create a comet. The emphasis on this station for actual use with preschoolers would be teacher assistance and instruction on the various terminology associated with the comet models. The fun part, of course, would be getting to throw their foil comets across the room afterward.

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5. The next station involved using Legos and the Lego Movie Maker app to create short, stop-action videos. I have recently been devastated to discover that Lego Movie Maker has been discontinued, but there are other stop motion video apps out there that would accomplish the same goal.

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6. This station was the simplest yet it yielded the most room for creativity. The challenge was to build Elsa's castle out of sugar cubes, and everyone had such a creatively different take on the best way to assemble a sturdy castle. One of the administrators suggested that we could also use a sugar water paste (similar to gingerbread house icing) to help the "bricks" stick together.

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7. This station was also pretty simple, including just pipe cleaners and beads. Using those two materials only (plus duct tape, of course), the teachers were challenged to see which team could build the tallest structure.

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We rotated everyone through the stations in five-minute increments. Some challenges required more time, others less, but this gave all the teachers a broad sweeping exposure to the STEM/maker concept. A follow up interactive quiz gave good feedback on the participants' understanding of the purpose and details of our STEM activities.

Whether you're a teacher or a parent looking for Spring Break/summer fun, you are welcome to check out the links below to set up your own kiddos' STEM challenges!

Link to STEM for Preschool presentation

Link to supplemental signs for STEM activities

Tech Tip #4

Blogging Challenge for School Librarians, Day 16 

Share a tech tip for your fellow librarians or teachers. How do you use this resource? How does it simplify your life?

For my last Tech Tip, I wanted to share about a new software that I have just begun to learn about and use in my school library. Nearpod is an app-based software that educators can use to promote student engagement and collective valuable formative/summative assessment data from each lesson. 

Though there are free trials available, you don't have access to all Nearpod's bells and whistles unless you pay for a subscription to the service. In it, teachers can upload and integrate all kinds of content...pictures, PPT slides, surveys, quick polls, quizzes, videos, open-ended questioning, etc.  in order to involve students in the instruction. 

 iPhone screenshot of what students would see when launching the Nearpod device

iPhone screenshot of what students would see when launching the Nearpod device

Once they create the presentation (or upload something already created to their Nearpod library), teachers will get an ID number for that lesson. Students open the Nearpod app, type in the ID number, and suddenly the teacher can control their device. He or she can send out quiz questions, have students respond to a math problem or label parts of an animal cell and submit that back to the teacher. I am talking mind-blowingly cool stuff here. There is a teacher-directed option which is to be used when the teacher wants to control the student's pace as well as a homework-type option that teachers can send out for students to complete at their own pace...excellent for flipped instruction! 

The best part is that even though we aren't set for school-wide BYOD quite yet, Nearpod can be used on our library's set of 30 Nooks. 

We're flat broke, so I wrote a grant for 5 teachers accounts for my school. I recently demonstrated it during a PD session on another topic (VAL-Ed assessment for instructional leaders), and had-with one exception- really positive feedback from teachers on how much they liked being able to use the software. Implementing that first with teachers gave me some solid feedback on how to best use it with kids. My next goal, of course, beyond using this in my own lessons with students, is to see it used in classrooms throughout the building. 

So if you have money to burn (hysterical, I know) or if you're looking for an idea for a tech-based grant, give Nearpod a look! Contact me here if you'd like to hear more about using this with your students and teachers. 

*Not a sponsored post, by the way. I'm not into that sort of thing. 

Summer is for soaking up...

P D!

Non-teachers love to tout how lucky we educators are to have "summers off," but any teacher will tell you that summer is for Professional Development...and almost always unpaid. Personally, I think it's a nasty little trick the educator universe plays on us, given that we're pretty much all lifelong learners and can.not.STAND idle brain time. They get way more bang for their buck in us this way.

It's quite clever, really.    

We spend August-May running the rat race, desperately seeking to do Very Big Things with our students and in our respective schools/libraries/classrooms. There's never enough time to do it all, and we always long for the next go around to do it better/faster/bigger.

We dream of summer and the breathing room it will provide...then a few weeks pass by and we're chomping at the bit to go sit in a workshop or conference or Twitter chat or webinar or SOMETHING and.just.learn.  

I called myself taking it easy this summer, and have cut back on my commitments...which still boil down to two conferences, numerous planning meetings, and an intensive two-day workshop. I'm participating in our district's annual tech camp tomorrow. Last year I presented while weathering way-too-early contractions, so with that still freshly in mind this year has to be just a party.

My session touches on the mobile technology revolution and how that is impacting our students, with specific focus on the awareness of certain apps. I shared about this briefly at a parenting seminar in April and have been thankful for the last few months to research, tweak, and refine the information so that what I am sharing is most current, accurate, and reliable.    

I know this is not a cutting edge topic...but I would say it's a bleeding edge issue. I truly believe that it's our job to help mentor our students and our personal children through learning how to use technology well, to learn how to construct boundaries for their digital life. We can't do that if we don't know what's out there for them to face. 

And that, my friends, is why I volunteer my summer away for PD.