Little Scientists: Supporting educators with STEM in the early years
Amy MacDonald, Charles Sturt University, Australia (firstname.lastname@example.org )
Lena Danaia, Charles Sturt University, Australia (email@example.com)
Shukla Sikder, Charles Sturt University, Australia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Carmen Huser, Early Childhood Australia, Australia (CHuser@earlychildhood.org.au)
Steven Murphy, Charles Sturt University, Australia (email@example.com)
Sibylle Seidler, Little Scientists, Australia (firstname.lastname@example.org
Background: Little Scientists is a not-for-profit initiative designed to facilitate children’s natural curiosity for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the early years through child-appropriate, fun and playful experiments and inquiry-based learning. The program supports young children’s engagement in STEM by providing professional development for early childhood educators across Australia. A two-year evaluation has been conducted by Charles Sturt University to ascertain the impact of the program on educators, the context of the early childhood setting, and the children within the setting.
Aim: To provide an overview of the program, share some of the key findings from the two-year evaluation and outline the next steps for the research associated with the program.
Method: The evaluation employed a mixed methods explanatory sequential design. Data were collected through online surveys of educators (pre/post), partner organisations and trainers and through the facilitation of Professional Learning Networks. There were also two analytic phases within the research design that involved a content analysis and a contextual analysis of the reach of the program. There were 899 centres involved in the program and 3386 educators who participated in the professional development.
Results: Findings suggest that the Little Scientists program is favourably received by the participants. Strengths include the focus on the everyday nature of STEM, and the ability to integrate the activities into a range of early childhood education and care settings. Participation in the workshops appears to have a positive impact upon educators’ confidence and practices, and in turn impacts positively upon children’s STEM learning opportunities.
Conclusions: Little Scientists had some success in improving early childhood educators’ confidence and ability to introduce STEM concepts in a fun and engaging way to children in their care through play-based inquiry learning. More research that draws on the perspectives of children in relation to their STEM learning and engagement is needed.
Implications for children: Educators enjoy creating STEM learning experiences for you to engage with and learn from. Remember to let them know if there is something you want to explore, and they will help you find ways to investigate this.
Implications for families: Educators are committed to promoting and fostering your child’s natural curiosity and wonder by facilitating STEM learning experiences. They encourage you to also engage in STEM learning opportunities and find ways to investigate with your child at home to help promote positive dispositions towards STEM.
Implications for practitioners: As an educator it is important for you to create opportunities for children to successfully engage in STEM learning experiences. To help facilitate this, you need to be familiar with the areas you intend to explore and have some confidence in implementing inquiry approaches to help promote children’s engagement in the activities. Little Scientists is one program that can help you develop the confidence and skills to effectively do this.
Funding: Little Scientists Australia/FROEBEL Australia
Key words: professionals’ voices, innovations, early STEM literacy, STEM professional learning for early childhood educators.
This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: