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Teachers are accustomed to planning integrated
curriculum activities that relate to literature or
literacy. They may be less accustomed, however,
to planning activities that integrate mathematics
and science. Yet this coordination of curricula
is important to young children’s learning and
lies at the heart of STEM education. Professional
organizations in mathematics and science echo
this need. For example, the National Council
of Teachers of Mathematics (2000) encourages
teachers to help children connect mathematics
to other contexts, and the National Science Edu
cation Standards urge teachers to coordinate
science and mathematics programs (National
Research Council 1996).
Components of STEM
Although four disciplines are included in the ac-
ronym STEM, science and mathematics are the
most familiar to teachers of young children. Even
so, many early childhood teachers fail to capital-
ize on the science opportunities that are embed-
ded throughout the classroom. Adult support is
critical if young children are to maximize their
foundational learning. As an example, most pre-
school classrooms incorporate water wheels in
the sensory table, and children delight in watch-
ing these wheels spin as they pour water through
them. Yet most children won’t consider the rela-
tionship between the amount of water they pour
over the wheel and how fast the wheel spins un-
less an adult is there to stimulate this thinking. A
simple question such as, “How can you make the
wheel go slowly?” can focus children’s attention
on the force of moving water and factors that af-
fect it. Children who are stimulated in their early
years by insightful questions like this become
immersed in scientific inquiry. They develop
the desire to experiment and learn more. So it is
essential that early childhood teachers begin to
think of themselves as science teachers who can
stimulate children’s thinking throughout the day.
Many early childhood teachers also do not
think of themselves as math teachers, even
though mathematics is a critical component of
the curriculum in preschool and kindergarten.
Teachers may feel uncomfortable with mathe-
matics, their math anxiety often dating to their
own elementary school experiences (Philipp
2007). While teachers may count objects with chil-
dren or read counting books, they often do not
engage in math discussions and problem-solving
activities that expand children’s thinking. Here
is an example. Wendy and Jason begin to argue
during snack because Jason thinks Wendy has
more grapes than he does. The teacher responds,
“I gave you each five. You have the same.” This
type of response shuts down conversation and
mathematical thinking. Instead, the teacher
might ask Jason why he thinks Wendy has more
grapes. Perhaps Jason’s grapes are clumped to-
gether and Wendy’s are spread apart, making it
appear that Wendy has more. If the teacher asks
Wendy and Jason how they can figure out if one of
them has more grapes, then the children become
the problem solvers. They may decide to match
their grapes in a one-to-one correspondence fash-
ion, or they may actually count them. Either way,
the children will have gained confidence in their
ability to solve their own problems. Sometimes
teachers may be unwilling to accede power to
children because they are afraid the children will
come up with the wrong answer. What if they
decide Wendy really does have more grapes? At
this point, the teacher can provide further scaf-
folding. She might say, “Wait a minute. When you
paired up the grapes on your plate, this grape
on Jason’s plate got left out.” This type of inter-
vention can help children recognize and correct
their own mistakes.
Because engineering is a profession that is
pursued in college, it seldom occurs to teachers to
connect children’s activities to real-life engineer-
ing jobs. When children design and build block
structures, they need to know that this is also
what architects and engineers do. A walk around
the neighborhood might stimulate children to
incorporate unique features into their own block
designs, especially if photographs (technology) are
used to preserve the images of the neighborhood
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