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COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL caregivers can support and extend children’s knowledge in these critical areas by recognizing the four disciplines of STEM education in the play experiences of children. Introduction to STEM Education The acronym STEM originated with the National Science Foundation (NSF). STEM refers to NSF’s education-related programs in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathemat- ics. Some educators regard STEM as any of the individual STEM disciplines. On the other hand, many others require that some, if not all, of the disciplines be integrated in order to receive STEM designation (Carnegie Mellon University 2008). In this book, STEM education indicates integra- tion of at least two of the STEM disciplines within a curricular activity. In recent years, STEM education has become a focus of attention in the United States for sev- eral reasons. First, U.S. students continue to trail their peers in many developed countries in sci- ence and mathematics, as reported by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (National Center for Education Statistics 2009). Second, there is concern that the United States is not adequately developing students in the areas of technology, engineering, science, and mathematics. In a recent report to Congress, the United States ranked twentieth internationally in the number of students who received degrees in science and engineering (Kuenzi 2008). Third, application of content knowledge from STEM dis- ciplines is increasingly required in jobs at all lev- els. Individuals must process information from STEM areas to make informed societal decisions, such as evaluating conflicting political statements on global warming. Finally, STEM education has been linked to scientific leadership in the world and to economic growth (National Research Council 2011). The foundations of STEM education begin in a child’s early years. Recently, there has been a 2 c ha p te r 1 surge of interest in early childhood mathematics (Clements and Sarama 2007). A substantial body of research attests to the importance of number sense for achievement in school mathematics (Duncan et al. 2007; National Research Council 2009; Starkey, Klein, and Wakeley 2004). In fact, Gersten and Chard (1999) believe that the con- cepts embedded in number sense are as impor­ tant to early mathematics learning as concepts of phonemic awareness are to early reading. Under­standing of geometry and measurement is also viewed as important and relevant for chil- dren in the primary years (Clements and Sarama 2007; National Council of Teachers of Mathe- matics 2006). Young children are also capable of considerable learning in science during the preschool and kindergarten years (Moomaw and Davis 2010; Moomaw and Hieronymus 1997). Nevertheless, research on science education in preschool and kindergarten is notably lacking. Neither the Handbook of Research on Science Educa- tion (Abell and Lederman 2007) nor the Handbook of Research on the Education of Young Children (Sara- cho and Spodek 2006) contains any research on science education with young children. This is a critical lack; during early childhood, children can develop a love for science and a feeling of effi- cacy for their own abilities that can support their learning in the years ahead. The concept of an integrated curriculum is familiar to many early childhood teachers (see the More Than . . . curriculum series from Redleaf Press, www.redleafpress.org). Teachers may de- velop math games to coordinate with a favorite children’s book, plan the dramatic play and block areas in preparation for an upcoming field trip, or introduce natural materials into the art area to coordinate with the seasons. Such integration of curricular materials is supported by profes- sional teaching organizations. For example, a National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position statement on devel- opmentally appropriate practice advises that “teachers plan curriculum experiences that inte- grate children’s learning within and across . . . the disciplines” (Copple and Bredekamp 2009, 21). COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL