$6m in STEM funds for preschools
As seen in The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 August 2017
Australian preschools are about to find out if they have been selected for a new $6 million STEM program.
The play-based science, technology, engineering and maths program will be piloted at 100 preschools in 2018.
STEM will be formally introduced to young children using apps that “go beyond the screen” to encourage active play that supports exploring location, patterns and problem solving.
Preschools selected to take part in the pilot will be announced this month. The Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA) pilot, spearheaded by the University of Canberra, is being welcomed by early education experts.
“The apps will introduce STEM principles through play, on and off the screen, providing educators with an opportunity to enhance play with learning experiences,” says Professor Lowrie, from the University of Canberra STEM Education Research Centre.
The program aims to build children’s inquiry, experiment, observation and reasoning skills.
“We know that experience through play is a fundamental part of early learning. This program will give parents and educators the confidence to guide that learning.”
Selected preschools include those in regional and remote areas.
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“Just because they are young doesn’t mean children are not capable of thinking creatively and solving problems,” says Dr Christine Preston, of the Sydney School of Education and Social Work at Sydney University.
Dr Preston teaches kindergarten science and technology alongside undertaking research and education and says app-based STEM teaching should not mean more computer time for toddlers.
“You watch a group of toddlers manipulating blocks to construct a launch pad for a flying doctor robot and what you are seeing is STEM in action – children as future thinkers.”
Studies show STEM subjects will play a vital role for future employment even for preschoolers. A Future of Work: Setting Kids up for Success report, published in 2016 by the Regional Australia Institute, states that “to remain competitive in the 2030 job market, one in two Australians will need skills in programming and software development, as well as an ability to build digital technology”.
“To ensure the success of today’s preschoolers in the 2030 job market, we need to invest in our kids now,” the report says.
“The future of work is not a question of how do we develop skills to race against technology, but instead what mix of skills provides the greatest opportunity to race ahead with technology.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education and Training says improving digital literacy among all children is necessary.
“The 100 preschool services selected to participate in the pilot are from a range of geographical locations and socioeconomic backgrounds.”
The ELSA program will include six apps, four focusing on playful learning experiences. There will also be an app for families to use at home.
Making maths more fun
Research shows it’s vital for parents, carers and community to join in to help make maths fun.
“Home and preschool experiences play a large role in shaping dispositions towards maths,” University of Sydney associate professor Dr Jennifer Way says.
Where to start? When cooking, count the measurements out loud and count foods as they are plated. Find those old board games, such as snakes and ladders, and play short stints with under-fives. Notice numbers in everyday things and point them out to children.
“Children, families and educators’ knowledge and skills can grow with positive mathematical experiences and, just as importantly, so can maths confidence,” says Dr Virginia Kinnear, a lecturer in early childhood education at Flinders University.
“Children learn maths through their everyday activities and when they play, and these are important ideas for parents. Everyday activities such as shopping and cooking are full of maths.”
Programs such as Let’s Count, The Smith Family’s national numeracy project for children aged three to five has improved how many children tackle maths.
The program encourages bringing maths into everyday events at home through counting, measurement and patterns.
Let’s Count was developed by Professor Bob Perry of Charles Sturt University and Associate Professor Ann Gervasoni from Monash University.