Deanna Pecaski McLennan, PhD


Deanna Pecaski McLennan took the time to talk with us about her professional journey and how being a full-time kindergarten teacher and fascination with artistic, exploratory, process-based learning influenced her new book Kindercoding Unplugged: Screen-Free Activities for Beginners.

Deanna Pecaski McLennan is a full-day kindergarten teacher based in Ontario, Canada. She has a PhD in educational studies and is an expert member of NAEYC’s Teaching Young Children’s advisory board. Deanna has authored more than a dozen journal articles for Early Childhood Education Journal and Teaching Young Children, among others. In 2020 Deanna was awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM, the highest honor in Canadian education.

Can you share a brief timeline of your educational and professional life?

I am a mother, educator, author and instructor. I have taught children for over 20 years, the majority of which has been in kindergarten. My undergraduate degree was in ‘Drama in Education’ and I have always been fascinated with artistic, exploratory, process-based learning. About ten years ago I became interested in redefining math in my classroom by using an inquiry- based, playful approach that focused on building children’s accuracy, fluency, confidence and mindset. Part of this involved learning more about how early computational thinking activities, like coding, could fit into our emergent program. In addition to teaching, I serve on several educational committees, teach additional qualification courses for teachers, and enjoy connecting with others using social media. I also love to read and write! I have published numerous books and articles on early years issues, specifically math related. I am always looking for exciting, joyful ways to engage children and their families in math each day while we are together at school.

Kindercoding Unplugged: Screen-Free Activities for Beginners

What do you enjoy most about being a kindergarten teacher?

I love that each day is an adventure with children. When you embrace an inquiry-based approach you follow the interests, observations and questions that the children have, and this leads to some amazing explorations. My favorite inquiries are those that delve into social and environmental issues. Young children are incredibly capable, and I love helping them discover that they can have a great impact on their families and local community. We use technology to share our ideas beyond the ‘walls of the classroom’ and it’s interesting to see the positive impact the children have on others.

Congratulations on receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM! How did that make you feel?

Thank you! I was beyond thrilled when I found out that I had been awarded this prestigious honor. It was a lifelong personal and professional goal of mine. I am hoping that it can help me to raise awareness regarding the importance of high-quality math instruction in the early years. I want to dispel the misconception that young children are not capable of engaging in complex and authentic mathematics and bring awareness to the importance of early childhood education.

“We never stop learning, regardless of how old we are or the positions we might hold.”

What are some common misconceptions about teaching STEM subjects to younger children?

I think that many educators and families worry that they need to be math and tech experts before they can engage children in rich STEM experiences. I consider myself a teacher-researcher together with the children and we learn while engaged in math and coding activities at school. This models life-long learning and shows children that it’s okay to make mistakes or try something new. We never stop learning, regardless of how old we are or the positions we might hold. I also think that educators worry they need fancy, high-tech equipment to engage children in STEM experiences, but this is not the case. Children are innovative and a variety of open- ended, creative materials are usually all that is needed. Natural, found and recycled loose parts and art materials are what the children use most often in our classroom when making and tinkering.

“I believe in a democratic learning space that is responsive to children and help them see themselves reflected in the environment.”

What is the Reggio Emilia approach and emergent curriculum? What made you want to incorporate them in your classroom?

Reggio Emilia is an approach to early childhood education that originated in Reggio Emilia, Italy after the Second World War. Reggio Emilia values young children are capable, curious, and creative members of a collaborative learning community. When educators honor the observations and questions that children have about their surroundings, they can help them build individual and collection knowledge about the world and their places within it. There are many specific principles related to Reggio Emilia including: there are hundreds of languages children use when exploring and representing ideas, the environment exists as a teacher in addition to children’s families and educators, curriculum should be emergent and evolve together with children’s interests, strengths and needs, and pedagogical documentation can help educators learn more about children while honoring them as learners. Emergent curriculum is a child-centered approach to learning that takes into consideration children’s interests, strengths and needs. Educators observe and respond to the observations and questions children ask about the world around them and use this to build classroom explorations and experiences that interest and excite children. As an educator I love listening to children as they observe and build theories for understanding the world around them. I believe in a democratic learning space that is responsive to children and help them see themselves reflected in the environment. Reggio Emilia and emergent curriculum help me create an early years program that honors children as learners and uses a culturally responsive and inclusive approach.

What did you see in your classroom after incorporating these different teaching methods that inspired you to write Kindercoding Unplugged?

Participating in unplugged coding activities in the classroom has been a very positive experience! The children excel in STEM-based activities and always surpass my expectations. I appreciate that these invitations for learning are open-ended so they can be differentiated to meet the needs of children. They are fun because they are game-like in nature and can be integrated into other areas of our day helping me fulfill curriculum and assessment obligations. The more we engaged in unplugged coding, the more confident children became in their work. They engaged enthusiastically in the problem-solving process and used prior knowledge to make connections and dig deeper into inquiries. Children eagerly used mistakes as learning opportunities in order to refine their work and become more proficient and precise in their coding. I also found that unplugged coding easily transferred to other areas of our program, so it helped me integrate subjects and curriculum.

“children are empowered to be producers, not consumers, of information.”

This Author Spotlight was published on March 8, 2021