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European Journal of STEM Education,
2018, 3(3), 18
Implementing STEAM in the Early Childhood Classroom
Nancy K. DeJarnette 1*
1 University of Bridgeport, 126 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604, USA
*Corresponding Author: email@example.com
Citation: DeJarnette, N. K. (2018). Implementing STEAM in the Early Childhood Classroom. European
Journal of STEM Education, 3(3), 18. https://doi.org/10.20897/ejsteme/3878
Published: September 6, 2018
STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) education has received growing attention over
the past decade, primarily within the middle and high school levels. This article focuses on the need for
STEAM education at the early childhood level. Preschool children have a natural disposition toward science
with their sense of curiosity and creativity. This ethnographic research involved professional development
for 50 in-service preschool teachers in an urban high-needs area of the northeastern United States. The
researcher explored how providing hands-on professional development, consistent support, and rich
resources for STEAM lesson implementation into the early childhood curriculum would impact the
dispositions, self-efficacy, and rate of implementation for teachers. The study also involved observation of
the reception of STEAM instruction by preschool children. Data was collected through pre and post
surveys, teacher interviews, and field observations. Findings revealed an increase in positive dispositions
and self-efficacy of preschool teachers, however, the rate of implementation of STEAM lessons by the
teachers was initially limited. The reception of the STEAM lessons by these high-needs preschool children
was phenomenal with high levels of engagement and cooperation. More research needs to be done in the
area of STEAM implementation in the PK-12 classrooms to incorporate engineering education.
Keywords: STEM education, early childhood STEAM, early science education, preschool STEM, preschool
There is a growing need in the United States to produce more skilled laborers in the areas of science, technology,
engineering, and math (STEM) (Gomez and Albrecht, 2013; Nugent et al., 2010). According to the National Center
for Education Statistics (2009), the United States has fallen behind other developed countries in math and science
(Myers-Spencer and Huss, 2013). If the U.S. wants to support growing technological innovation, then it is
important to increase the amount of positive exposures and experiences to STEM fields for PK-12 students
(Aronin and Floyd, 2013). With greater attention to the need for STEM education in recent years, United States
youth have shown some improvement in the areas of math and science performance, but still lag behind their
international peers (Desilver, 2015).
STEAM Adds the Arts
There is a growing trend in adding the arts to STEM and making it STEAM (Jones, 2011). STEAM is important
because it helps teachers incorporate multiple disciplines at the same time and promotes learning experiences that
allow children to explore, question, research, discover, and exercise innovative building skills (Colker and Simon,
2014). Including the arts in the STEM disciplines is a natural fit because of STEAM’s emphasis on creativity and
design (Sharapan, 2012). STEAM concepts are second nature for children, as they like to explore and experiment
DeJarnette / Implementing STEAM in the Early Childhood Classroom
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within their natural environment. Adding art provides additional options for educators to present STEM concepts
to children, especially at the elementary and early childhood levels. Robelen (2011) states that STEAM integration
allows for intersection of the arts with the STEM fields which not only can enhance student engagement and
learning, but also help unlock creative thinking and innovation. The nature of the arts and STEM both lend
themselves to hands-on learning and production.
Research has shown that providing meaningful hands-on STEAM experiences for early childhood and
elementary age children positively impacts their perceptions and dispositions towards STEAM (Bagiati et al., 2010;
Bybee and Fuchs, 2006; DeJarnette, 2012). STEAM concepts are not too difficult for preschoolers (Kropp, 2014)
who are persistent and determined when building designs; they naturally try to fix them when things don’t quite
work out the way they wanted. Van Meeteren (2015) states,
Engineers often define their work as design under constraint. In the block center, preschoolers work
hard to build structures under many constraints or limitations. They must consider space, shapes, sizes,
materials, the numbers of blocks available, and of-course gravity. Preschoolers are budding engineers!
Young children need time to explore, create, and innovate. They want to learn basic knowledge and gain
understanding of how the world works (Koester, 2013). Preschool children have a natural disposition toward
science with their sense of creativity, curiosity, and persistence (Banko et al., 2013). STEAM activities provide
preschoolers with a natural environment for collaboration and communication. They are capable of discussing
different strategies and suggestions for a simplistic engineering design.
The preschool age is a great age in which to introduce science literacy (Koester, 2013). Early learning librarians
can utilize children’s literature to design STEAM activities in the library and begin building a foundation for STEM
concepts (Kropp, 2014; Myers-Spencer and Huss, 2013). Preschoolers have a natural sense to work with materials,
try things out, and problem-solve. Engineers identify a problem, design and construct a solution, test their product,
and work to improve it (Jackson et al., 2011). Testing products is a key aspect of the engineering design loop. In
STEAM education, teachers need to question their young students and encourage critical thinking about their
designs and ways in which to improve them (Ingram, 2014). This instructional strategy will easily turn play into
There are many benefits for young children from early exposure to STEAM. Integrated and exciting learning
experiences improve students’ interests and learning in STEM and helps prepare them for the 21st Century. In
Becker and Kyungsuk’s (2011) research, cohesive STEAM lessons within the curriculum identified a positive
impact on student achievement with students at the elementary level. When children are introduced to STEAM at
an earlier age, there tends to be less gender-based stereotypes and fewer obstacles regarding STEM (Kazakoff et
al., 2013; Davidson, 2011). However, little research exists regarding the impact of STEAM initiatives at the early
childhood level (Moomaw, 2012).
Professional Development for Teachers
Science classrooms need to exhibit more critical thinking, inquiry and problem-solving activities that promote
process skills rather than simply content knowledge (DeJarnette, 2012). Middle and high school teachers are
specifically trained within their STEM disciplines, however, at the elementary and early childhood level, teachers
have had little or no instruction. When faced with this new emphasis on STEAM education in the primary grades,
teachers are often intimidated, lack self-efficacy, and reveal negative dispositions as a result of their lack of training
(Jamil, Linder and Stegelin, 2018). When they feel inadequate with certain content areas, they tend to spend less
time teaching that particular content with their students. Nugent et al. (2010) research revealed that teachers
significantly increased their knowledge of engineering and developed more positive attitudes towards STEM,
increasing their self-efficacy and confidence in teaching STEM lessons, after receiving effective professional
development. Self-efficacy is defined as one’s impression of their own proficiency on a task (Myers, 2014). It
resembles one’s contemplation and discernment of their own abilities on a given performance. This lack of STEM
or STEAM training for elementary and early childhood teachers brings new urgency for quality professional
development in light of the newly released Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which emphasize K-12
engineering and technology education.
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
In the spring of 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were officially released in the United
States. States across the nation have slowly been adopting the new standards. Currently in mid-2018, 19 states and
the District of Columbia have adopted the standards and have implementation schedules. These standards were
European Journal of STEM Education, 2018, 3(3), 18
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developed by 26 lead state partners (Next Generation Science, 2016). The NGSS emphasize scientific inquiry,
engineering design, and require K-12 students to have the ability to link broad concepts across scientific fields.
The inclusion of K-12 engineering education will bring challenges and anxiety to many teachers who have not been
adequately trained on this specific content and skill set, especially at elementary and early childhood levels. With
the adoption of the NGSS by the states, there is a realization that adequate professional development will be
required for teachers before they can fully implement the new standards, resulting in slow adoption rates as well
as implementation schedules (Next Generation Science, 2016). The inclusion of K-12 engineering education
reveals that science educators at the highest levels are in agreement that STEM concepts are not only appropriate
for early childhood, but that young children are also capable of completing simple engineering design challenges
and experience success with STEM skills (Moomaw and Davis, 2010).
The theoretical framework for this study was based on the sociocultural theory leading to the Constructivist
theory, which is an approach to learning based upon the work of Vygotsky (1978). Sociocultural theory accentuates
the importance of students’ interaction with others and their environment in order to gain understanding.
Constructivist theory emphasizes the importance of providing students with authentic learning experiences where
they can relate real world problems and situations to the task at hand (Wilson, 1996). The unique structure of the
professional development workshop (provided for the teachers in this study) reflected these learning theories
through the hands-on modeling of STEAM lessons. Research has shown that when professional development for
teachers focuses on specific teaching practices, it results in an increase of the use of those practices in the classroom
(Desimore et al., 2002; Huffman et al., 2003).
The research questions for this study were as follows:
1. What will the result of providing professional development in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)
initiatives in high-needs schools have on the
of early childhood teachers toward STEM as they implement?
2. What will the result of providing professional development in STEAM in high needs schools have on the
early childhood teachers as they implement?
3. What will the result of providing professional development in STEAM initiatives in high needs schools have on the
ra te of
of STEAM pedagogy in the early childhood classroom?
The hypotheses for the study posits that preschool teachers in high-needs schools will show a positive increase
in their dispositions, self-efficacy, and rate of implementation regarding STEAM lessons in their classrooms after
receiving professional development, in-class support, and needed resources.
This research is based on a phenomenological approach focusing on the “lived experiences” of the participants
within the professional development provided and its aftermath.
Participants & Setting
The study involved 50 in-service preschool teachers in an urban high-needs area in the northeastern United
States. These teachers taught children ages three to five. Ninety percent of the teachers were female with a wide
range of diversity represented, the majority being African American. Fifty percent of the teachers had ten or more
years of teaching experience, forty percent had 4-9 years’ experience, with the remaining ten percent having less
than four years’ experience.
These preschools were located in an urban center with approximately 150,000 people. The median household
income in 2014 was around $43,000 per year, which is well below the state average (City-data, 2016). Ethnicities
of the city population included 39% Hispanic, 34% African American, and 22% Caucasian. The crime index for
this city is 449.7, which is nearly double the US average. The difficult issues surrounding this city (crime, poverty,
unemployment, etc.) are similar to challenges in other urban centers around the United States.
In this phenomenological research study, the researcher provided two consecutive professional development
workshops for 50 preschool teachers. The two workshops were offered three months apart with the first offered
in February and the second in May, 2016. Each workshop was 90 minutes long with two back-to-back identical
sessions serving 25 participants in each. The workshop content provided a brief overview of the newly adopted
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the need for STEAM at the preschool level, followed by modeling
a variety of hands-on age appropriate STEAM lessons appropriate for the preschool classroom. All lessons were
DeJarnette / Implementing STEAM in the Early Childhood Classroom
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directly related to children’s literature and utilized recyclables and inexpensive everyday materials. Two different
instructional formats were modeled for the teachers during these workshops. The first consisted of multiple
STEAM learning centers. These learning centers included quick hands-on activities that exhibited simple
engineering and science concepts appropriate for the preschool child to manipulate independently or with
assistance. The second instructional format consisted of whole-class led STEAM lessons related to children’s
One example of a whole-class lesson utilized the children’s book, The Gingerbread Man. After an oral reading of
the story, the children are asked to design a different way for the gingerbread man to get across the river other
than on the sly fox’s head. The materials provided were various sizes of aluminum foil, foam board pieces, craft
sticks, tape, and plastic straws. The engineering challenge was to design a boat for the gingerbread man that will
hold the most weight (pennies or dominos) without sinking. Two small tubs of water were placed in different
sections of the classroom to be used for testing. The participants were encouraged to follow the engineering design
loop where they ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve their designs (Jackson et al., 2011). Upon implementation, the
teachers are encouraged to discuss simple science concepts with the children as they engage in these STEAM
Between the two workshop days, the researcher made herself available to provide in-class support for the
implementation of STEAM lessons, however, no formal invitations were received. The researcher was however,
invited to one of the preschool sites to provide STEAM demonstration lessons for the teachers within their
classrooms. The school consisted of four preschool classrooms of children ages 4-5 with approximately 20 in each.
While the researcher worked with the children directly on the STEAM lessons, the classroom teachers either
assisted or observed. The four lessons were conducted over a two-day period with two lessons conducted each
Individual teacher interviews were conducted during the final professional development day. Random teachers
were interviewed during the lunch that was provided. All interviews were recorded to ensure transcription accuracy
with member checks. This workshop series was grant-funded and provided two STEAM lesson activity books for
each teacher as a valuable resource for future implementation.
Instruments & Analysis
Identical pre- and post- surveys were given to the teachers, which asked them to rate their level of comfort
regarding STEM instruction utilizing a 5-point Likert scale. The Likert scale ratings consisted of 4 = Extremely, 3
= Very, 2 = Moderately, 1 = Little, and 0 = Not at all, in reference to their personal activity and confidence levels.
The survey data was analyzed using Chi-square and Wilcoxon Tests. The Chi-square test is applied when you have
two categorical variables from a single population to determine if there is a significant association. Wilcoxon tests
are used to compare ordinal or nominal pre- and post- data collected from the same group (teachers). An
Institutional Review Board (IRB) application was submitted and accepted by the university for this research.
Teachers were informed about the study and voluntarily signed a letter of consent prior to participation. The survey
was validated prior to the study using two pilot groups, the first with 25 pre-service teachers, and the second with
ten in-service teachers. The survey questions are displayed in Table 1.
Table 1. Pre and Post-Survey of Teachers’ Comfort with STEM Instruction
Not at all
1. I regularly incorporate STEAM activities for my students.
2. I am comfortable with the idea of planning and implementing STEM activities with my students.
3. I enjoy teaching STEM topics and lessons with my students.
4. I believe that incorporating STEM within my curriculum is within my reach at this time.
5. I understand how STEM can be integrated into the curriculum major content areas.
6. I am knowledgeable about strategies and resources for implementing STEM into my curriculum at this time.
7. I am confident in my ability to plan and imbed STEM in the curriculum at this time.
8. I am able to design strategies to assess my students’ growth in STEM instruction at this time.
9. I would need some additional professional development to effectively implement STEM content more regularly into my
10. I feel comfortable and knowledgeable regarding STEM content.
11. I believe that STEM implementation within the preschool curriculum is important for preschoolers’ cognitive development.
12. I believe that Engineering concepts and activities are developmentally appropriate for my preschoolers.
During the second professional development day, teacher interviews were conducted at random. The interview
questionnaire was also validated prior to the study using the same two pilot groups as the survey. The teachers
were asked a variety of questions about their current practices with STEAM instruction as well as their comfort
levels with planning and delivering STEAM lessons. The teacher interview questionnaire is displayed in Table 2.
European Journal of STEM Education, 2018, 3(3), 18
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Field observations were recorded as a third data point in which the researcher served as a participant observer.
Participant observation is a method in phenomenological research where the researcher is directly involved in the
activities of the observation environment (DeWalt and DeWalt, 2011). These field observations included two
professional development hands-on workshops for teachers as well as demonstration lessons provided by the
researcher in four preschool classrooms. As a result, the researcher was entrenched within the culture of the
research setting and interacted with both teachers during the workshop and the preschool students during the
Fifty preschool teachers participated in the study and attended two days of professional development on
implementing STEAM lessons into their preschool curriculum. They completed a pre survey prior to engagement
in the STEAM workshops and a post survey at the end of the second day of the workshop. Out of the fifty
teachers, thirty agreed to participate in the study and completed both surveys. The statistical results of the Chi-
square analysis at alpha < 0.05 for the pre and post surveys showed a statistically significant positive change in
their confidence level regarding their ability to plan and implement STEAM lessons for their preschoolers as a
result of the professional development. For the comparison of participants’ answers before and after the
professional development, a Wilcoxon test at the < 0.05 significance level was also performed. The Wilcoxon Test
results are displayed in Table 3 where the p values indicate a statistically significant difference between pre and
post data for those questions at the < 0.05 significance level.
3. Significance Found in Survey Questions
p < 0.032
p < 0.005
p < 0.008
p < 0.04
p = 0.00
p < 0.02
Alpha < 0.05
On question two, I am comfortable with the idea of planning and implementing STEM activities with my students, teachers
showed the largest increase from pre to post survey with a statistical significance of p < 0.032. This question in
particular addressed research question number two, regarding their confidence and self-efficacy to plan and
implement STEAM activities with their students. Teachers’ self-efficacy towards STEAM increased as a result of
the professional development. Descriptive results of questions four and seven were also in agreement with this
finding as teachers showed an increase in their own abilities to incorporate STEAM activities in their classrooms.
Question six which states, I am knowledgeable about strategies and resources for implementing STEM into my curriculum at this
time, had significant results with p < 0.005 demonstrating an increase in teachers’ knowledge about strategies and
resources for implementing STEM into their curriculum as a result of the professional development.
Descriptive results from question three, I enjoy teaching STEM topics and lessons with my students, showed a positive
increase by 1.01 ratings according to the scale in teachers’ dispositions towards STEAM. As a result of the
workshop, teachers felt more comfortable with STEAM concepts and their own personal skills. Results of question
ten, I feel comfortable and knowledgeable regarding STEM content, confirmed this also showing an increase in their own
perceived knowledge of STEAM content with a statistical significance of p < 0.001.
There was a minimal increase in question 12, I believe that Engineering concepts and activities are developmentally
appropriate for my preschoolers, as teachers rated this question fairly high to begin with. The question rated high on the
Table 2. Interview Questionnaire of Teachers’ Experiences with STEAM Instruction
1. Do you believe there is a need for STEAM in the preschool classroom? Why or why not?
2. Do you enjoy planning and implementing STEAM lessons with your students?
3. How often do you include STEAM lessons and activities into your current curriculum?
4. Describe, if anything, what would help you incorporate more STEAM activities in your classroom.
5. Describe, if anything, what inhibits you from incorporating more STEAM activities in your classroom.
6. How prepared do you feel you are to plan STEAM lessons for your students?
7. Were science and math classes in your past a positive experience? Why or why not?
8. How confident are you with finding STEAM resources to help you plan lessons?
DeJarnette / Implementing STEAM in the Early Childhood Classroom
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pre and post survey with a significance level of p < 0.02, which indicates that the teachers believe that these
concepts are not beyond the early childhood development stage.
Question nine, I would need some additional professional development to effectively implement STEM content more regularly
into my curriculum, showed very little change with only a slight dip of .05 on the rating scale and significance rating
of p < 0.04. This indicates that teachers’ perception from pre to post survey remained the same of their
acknowledgement of needing additional professional development in order to effectively implement STEAM
content regularly into their preschool curriculum. This indicates that while their self-efficacy and dispositions
towards STEAM increased as a result of the professional development, they still did not feel confident enough to
regularly implement. This confirms question one, I regularly incorporate STEAM activities for my students, which scored
the lowest of all the questions on both the pre and post survey regarding their regular current implementation of
STEAM activities. Even though the data showed an increase for implementation on the survey, when asked later
during the interviews, none of the teachers had actually implemented a STEAM lesson within their classroom after
the first training. The descriptive bar graph results of the survey can be seen in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Preschool Teachers Pre and Post Survey Results
After the second professional development offering, the researcher interviewed four individual teachers to seek
their personal feelings towards STEAM instruction. Regarding question one, all four teachers were in agreement
that there is a need for STEAM at the preschool level. One teacher stated, “STEM is a big topic right now, and it seems
to have trickled down to our level, so it is needed.”
Question three asked them how often they include STEAM lessons into their curriculum, and all four teachers
stated that they had not yet attempted a specific STEAM lesson with their young students. Question five then
asked what inhibited them from implementing more STEAM activities. One teacher stated, “It is still all too new to
me, I am not sure how it would go teaching it [STEAM] to my kids.” A second teacher stated, “You gave us a lot of resources,
however, I feel like I need more time to really look through them and get comfortable with the STEAM content before I try it in my
classroom.” A third teacher said, “You modeled the STEAM activities with us, which was great, but I think I would need to see
STEAM lessons modeled with children to help me feel more comfortable.”
Question six asked how prepared the teachers felt to plan STEAM lessons for their students. All four teachers
were in agreement that the professional development definitely helped them see what STEAM lessons looked like
for the preschool classroom and that the resources provided were fantastic. They stated that they now felt more
prepared as a result. However, they also reported that they still had reservations about their own abilities to
implement it in their own classrooms. One teacher stated, “I feel much better now than I did before, and you modeled some
great STEAM activities that I think I could do in my classroom with my kids, but I still think I need a little more time.” The last
interview question asked about their confidence level in finding STEAM resources to help them plan lessons. All
four teachers again stated that as a result of the workshop they felt more confident, since many great resources
were provided by the researcher (books and websites) that will help them plan.
STEAM Pre & Post Survey Results
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During the two professional development workshop days, the teachers were pleasant and eager to participate
in the hands-on STEAM modeled lessons. The teachers were fully engaged during the workshops. They were
talking and laughing as they made their designs and moving through the engineering design loop. When asked if
their preschool students would be successful with these STEAM activities, they all whole-heartedly agreed. Several
groups went back to the testing table three and four times trying to improve their boat designs to hold even more
weight. This simple act demonstrates the engagement of the teachers and their commitment to the STEAM
process. The teachers consistently asked questions of the researcher for specific implementation suggestions with
their preschool students.
Between the two professional development days, the researcher was invited in to one school to conduct
demonstration lessons in four different preschool classrooms containing children ages four to five. At the request
of the site director, the researcher demonstrated the use of purchased STEM learning kits on magnetism, and force
and motion. In one classroom, the researcher worked alongside the teachers and set up three learning centers,
placing a teacher at each station, and the children rotating through each. In the other three classrooms the teachers
asked that the researcher set up one learning center in the room and rotated the children through the one center.
The first situation was optimal because the classroom teachers were then engaged and fully participated in the
instruction, whereas in the latter situation, the teachers were removed and only observed from a distance. As a
result, the teachers in the first classroom expressed how much they enjoyed the STEAM lessons and looked
forward to continued use of the learning centers.
The preschool children in all four classrooms were thrilled with the STEM learning centers and did not want
to leave the center. The children were fully engaged, took turns, experimented, and communicated with the
researcher and one another regarding the STEM content and phenomena that they were experiencing. The children
appeared to be enjoying the STEM activities in the learning centers as they were smiling and talking excitedly with
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
This study consisted of three research questions. The first question explored the impact of STEAM professional
development on preschool teachers’ dispositions towards STEM content. The findings did indicate that the
teachers’ dispositions towards STEM content did reflect a positive increase as a result of the workshops. This
finding is in agreement with Nugent, Kunz, Rilett, and Jones (2010), who also found that teachers developed more
positive attitudes towards STEM and increased their self-efficacy as a result of receiving STEM professional
The second research question explored the impact of STEAM professional development on preschool teachers’
self-efficacy regarding planning and implementing STEAM content. The findings revealed that through the
workshop, supplied resources, and modeling of the STEAM activities, the teachers did experience a positive
increase in their self-efficacy regarding STEAM. Although their survey results showed a rise in their confidence
and dispositions, during the interview process, teachers revealed that they still would need additional professional
development in order to fully implement STEAM lessons within their classrooms. This is in agreement with
Ralston et al. (2013), who found that K-12 teachers would need assistance in order to successfully implement the
engineering education component of STEM. They also emphasized that simply hearing or reading about STEM
was not enough, but that students and teachers alike actually need to participate in hands-on STEM training to be
effective. This researcher has also found this to be true, so all of the workshops offered are hands-on and model
STEAM lessons for teachers.
The third research question explored the impact of the professional development workshop on the rate of
STEAM implementation by the teachers in their classrooms. It was interesting to note that after the first hands-
on workshop, not one teacher had conducted a STEAM lesson in their classroom as a result during the two-month
span, even though they were given a complete resource book filled with lessons and complete STEM learning kits
for learning centers. The teachers themselves reported how much they had enjoyed the STEAM lessons and were
in agreement that their preschool students would love the lessons as well, but yet they were reluctant to implement
them in their classrooms. This gap between effectively educating PK-12 teachers and supporting them as they
attempt to integrate their curriculum with STEM subject matter for students continues to exist even after major
emphasis has been placed on STEM in recent years (Gomez and Albrecht, 2013).
These research findings showed a statistically significant change in how preschool teachers’ confidence levels
positively increased regarding their ability to plan and implement STEAM lessons for their preschoolers as a result
of their engagement in the professional development sessions. However, even as the preschool teachers were
actively engaged and experienced an increase in their knowledge, skills and dispositions regarding STEAM
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implementation, they were still reluctant to implement, as none of them implemented a STEAM lesson
independently during the course of this study (self-reporting).
More research needs to be done in the area of STEAM implementation in the PK-3 classrooms as more and
more states adopt the NGSS, which formally incorporates engineering education and STEM across all grade levels.
Suggested research may involve investigating professional development strategies that increase the likelihood of
actual classroom implementation, such as offering in-class support for teachers when implementing STEAM
lessons with their children for the first time.
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