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Research Findings: Educators declare their commitment to high-quality education for all children. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) has been increasingly included as critical topics, even for young children. However, there are exceptions, especially the provision of developmentally appropriate STEM experiences to children with disabilities (CWD). In this article, we review evidence concerning this equity gap, including the importance of STEM education to CWD. We find that the early years provide an exceptional opportunity to introduce STEM, but that this potential is often left unrealized, especially for young vulnerable children, who live in poverty, are members of linguistic and ethnic minority groups, or are CWD (some with particular disabilities in STEM domains). Research also indicates the success of some educational approaches. Practice or Policy: Research and development in each of the STEM domains, as well as interdisciplinary approaches provides directions for both policy and practice. For example, both need to change to reflect importance of STEM for all young children, especially CWD, the need to change harmful beliefs, and the positive effects of approaches based on learning trajectories. We conclude with an introduction of a new center to support inclusive innovation in early education in STEM.
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Early Education and Development
ISSN: 1040-9289 (Print) 1556-6935 (Online) Journal homepage:
STEM for Inclusive Excellence and Equity
Douglas H. Clements, Megan Vinh, Chih-Ing Lim & Julie Sarama
To cite this article: Douglas H. Clements, Megan Vinh, Chih-Ing Lim & Julie Sarama
(2020): STEM for Inclusive Excellence and Equity, Early Education and Development, DOI:
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Published online: 07 May 2020.
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STEM for Inclusive Excellence and Equity
Douglas H. Clements
, Megan Vinh
, Chih-Ing Lim
, and Julie Sarama
Marsico Institute, University of Denver;
Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill
Research Findings: Educators declare their commitment to high-quality
education for all children. Science, Technology, Engineering, and
Mathematics (STEM) has been increasingly included as critical topics, even
for young children. However, there are exceptions, especially the provision
of developmentally appropriate STEM experiences to children with disabil-
ities (CWD). In this article, we review evidence concerning this equity gap,
including the importance of STEM education to CWD. We find that the early
years provide an exceptional opportunity to introduce STEM, but that this
potential is often left unrealized, especially for young vulnerable children,
who live in poverty, are members of linguistic and ethnic minority groups,
or are CWD (some with particular disabilities in STEM domains). Research
also indicates the success of some educational approaches. Practice or
Policy: Research and development in each of the STEM domains, as well
as interdisciplinary approaches provides directions for both policy and
practice. For example, both need to change to reflect importance of STEM
for all young children, especially CWD, the need to change harmful beliefs,
and the positive effects of approaches based on learning trajectories. We
conclude with an introduction of a new center to support inclusive innova-
tion in early education in STEM.
Although it is common to hear educators declare their commitment to high-quality education for all
children (e.g., Campbell & Robles, 1997; Duncan et al., 1994; Francis et al., 2006; Judge et al., 2006;
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014; Raudenbush, 2009, see also reports from the
Federal Coordination in STEM Education Subcommittee of the Committee on Stem Education of
The National Science & Technology Council), there are often troubling exceptions. One such
disheartening exception is the provision of developmentally appropriate STEM experiences to
children with disabilities (CWD). In this article, we review evidence concerning this equity and
opportunity gap for CWDs, including the importance of STEM education, the success of educational
approaches in this context, and the introduction of a new Center to support inclusive innovation in
early education in STEM.
The Importance of STEM for Young Children
Several articles in this special issue document the benefits of early STEM education. STEM experi-
ences throughout the early childhood years, birth to Grade 3, help children develop STEM compe-
tencies (John et al., 2018) and attitudes (Katz, 2011; Kermani & Aldemir, 2015). These articles
CONTACT Douglas H. Clements Kennedy Institute, University of Denver, Katherine A. Ruffatto
Hall Rm. 160, 1999 East Evans Avenue, Denver, CO 80208-1700
This paper was based upon work supported in part by a Cooperative Agreement between the US. Department of Education, Office
of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. # H327G180006. These contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal
© 2020 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
underscore the importance of STEM early learning opportunities for all children. Specifically, early
science and mathematics learning experiences are beneficial for developing foundational knowledge
and thinking skills (Bustamante et al., 2018; Clements & Sarama, 2011; Clements et al., 2016,2011,
2013; Chalufour et al., 2004; French, 2004) within the STEM domains but also across all school
subjects (Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council [NRC], 2015).
Just or more important, is that all children have the capacity to engage with and learn STEM
meaningfully (Clements et al., 2016; Sarama et al., 2018), yet some children are denied these
opportunities, a point to which we will return. In fact, young children develop the foundations of
science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) from infancy. For example, they actively explore
and investigate the world using all their senses almost from the moment they are born (Gopnik et al.,
2000). Toddlers and preschoolers exhibit many of the characteristics of young scientists and
engineers in their play, including an almost insatiable desire to take things apart, figure out how
they work, and put them back together (Clements et al., 2016; White, 2012).
Most young children possess an informal knowledge of math and science, and they frequently ask
scientific questions, such as why?questions (Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research
Council (NRC), 2015; National Research Council, 2009). In addition, preschoolersfree play involves
substantial amounts of foundational math as they explore patterns, shapes, and spatial relations;
compare magnitudes; engineer with various materials; and explore scientific phenomena and con-
cepts (Clements & Sarama, 2016; Sarama & Clements, 2018; Seo & Ginsburg, 2004).
The Inequity of STEM for (Truly) All Young Children
STEM Educational Experiences for Young Children
These early years provide an exceptional opportunity to introduce STEM (Clements et al., 2016).
However, this potential is often left unrealized especially for young vulnerable children. Although
children are ready and eager to learn (National Research Council, 2001), many early childhood
teachers are not prepared to engage children in rich STEM experiences that lay the groundwork for
later success in school and in the workplace (Brenneman, Stevenson-Boyd et al., 2009; National
Research Council, 2009; Sarama & Clements, 2009b). For example, observational studies in mathe-
matics have shown that, in practice, a full-day literacy-based curriculum allowed for out of a six-
hour day 58 seconds per day for mathematics (Farran et al., 2007). This did not allow children to
gain math skills and sometimes resulted in lost skills over the year. For science, observational studies
suggested teachers spend little time engaged in either planned or spontaneous science-relevant
activities (Nayfeld et al., 2011; Tu, 2006). Even when a classroom had a science table available,
teachers and children did not spend much time there, and teachers provided little guidance with
science-based activities (Griffith & Scharmann, 2008; Hanley et al., 2009). If science does occur, it
tends to consist of simple, isolated activities, giving young children little or no occasion to develop
important experiential skills needed for future science learning (Early et al., 2005; Graham et al.,
1997; Rudd et al., 2008; Tudge & Doucet, 2004; Winton et al., 2005). Even quality programs tend to
have a stronger focus on language and social emotional development, a weaker focus on mathema-
tical foundations, and little to no focus on developing childrens potential for scientific thinking
(Smith & Dickinson, 1994).
Equity and STEM
Further, there is a STEM opportunity gap for children who are underserved. Specifically, children
who live in poverty and who are members of linguistic and ethnic minority groups demonstrate
lower levels of achievement (Denton & West, 2002). Moreover, these achievement or opportunity
gaps continue to widen (Darling-Hammond, 2007; Sarama & Clements, 2009b) and have origins in
the earliest years low-income children possess less extensive math and science knowledge than
middle-income children, even in preschool, presumably because they have fewer opportunities for
development in these areas in their home and school environments (Blevins-Knabe & Musun-Miller,
1996; Brenneman, Massey et al., 2009; Clements et al., 2016; Griffin et al., 1995; Jordan et al., 1992;
Saxe et al., 1987). Science emerges as a particular area of concern. A review reports that, among the
eight Head Start Learning Outcomes, children arrived at kindergarten with lower science readiness
scores than in any other domain (Greenfield et al., 2009).
Data on more than 7,750 children from kindergarten entry to the end of eighth grade found that
among children who entered kindergarten with low levels of general knowledge, 62 percent were
struggling in science in third grade and 54 percent were still struggling in eighth grade. The title of
the research is revealing: Science achievement gaps begin very early, persist, and are largely
explained by modifiable factors(Morgan et al., 2016). Among all the factors studied, kindergarten
general knowledge was the strongest predictor. Lower math and reading scores were also predictive.
Children differed substantially in these competencies when they entered schools, most likely due to
the lower resources in their communities. On this basis, the authors concluded that we need to
intensify early intervention efforts, particularly those in preschool. If we do not, science achievement
gaps emerge in kindergarten and continue until at least the end of eighth grade. Arguably, then,
high-quality early STEM learning is particularly important in addressing the US equity issues.
The Potential of STEM Education
This leads to a final point: All these studies are especially concerning because of missed opportunities
(Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC), 2015). That is, engaging in
early STEM-based instruction raises later reading, writing, literacy, and math scores, with evidence of
gains for groups that are traditionally under-represented in STEM (Sarama et al., 2018). For
example, teaching science in early years is associated with gains in mathematics, early literacy, and
reading (Paprzycki et al., 2017) and early mathematics learning is a strong predictor of later
achievement (Aubrey et al., 2000; Claessens & Engel, 2011; Duncan et al., 2007; Sarama et al.,
2018). If based on a solid understanding of how young children learn, efforts to improve STEM
learning in the early years could help to erase the false dichotomy often drawn between childrens
play and their cognitive, social, intellectual, and academic development (Clements & Sarama, 2014c).
Studies show that skilled and knowledgeable teachers can facilitate childrens emerging understand-
ing of STEM concepts, practices, and habits of mind, while harnessing their natural curiosity and
also fostering developmentally appropriate, STEM-infused play (Clements, 2015; Institute of
Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC), 2015). Teachers can promote childrens
abilities to question, explore, and reflect on their ideas about the world and how it works while
getting their hands dirty digging for worms (Clements et al., 2016).
Where We are and Where We Still Need to Go
Increasing recognition of equity concerns and the need to provide better educational experiences is
heartening (Gottfried & Kirksey, 2019), but awareness is focused mainly on children from low-
resource communities and underserved racial and ethnic groups. What about children with dis-
abilities (CWD)?
Children with various disabilities also demonstrate lower levels of achievement in STEM, similarly
due to a lack of opportunities to learn (Clements & Sarama, 2014a; Institute of Medicine (IOM) and
National Research Council (NRC), 2015).
What Do We Know about STEM Learning Experiences for CWD?
Information on school-age children from the US. Department of EducationsCivil Rights Data
Collection (CDRC) showed the disparity in STEM opportunities, such that children with disabilities
represented only 8 percent of children enrolled in biology courses, 4 percent of children enrolled in
Algebra II, chemistry, and physics, and less than 1 percent of children enrolled in calculus. We know
less about the experiences of very young CWD. Additionally, with less than half (45%) of children
with disabilities ages 35 years receiving the majority of special education and related services within
a regular EC classroom (U.S. Department of Education, 2017), early childhood programs need to
provide more access to high-quality inclusive programs with STEM learning opportunities, and
practitioners need supports and resources to provide high-quality STEM instruction to ALL chil-
dren, including young children with disabilities.
Limited research has been conducted about specific teaching strategies or interventions in early
STEM learning for children with disabilities; a good number addressed math, but few for the earliest
years (Clements & Sarama, 2014a; Dowker, 2004), and even fewer have addressed science or early
engineering practices (Early Childhood STEM Working Group, 2017). Incorporating technology is
often complicated by a view limited to sophisticated digital or electronic technology, such as touch-
screen tablets. Although these are useful and important, using a particular type of technology (a
spoon, printed book, chalkboard, or tablet) is not the same as helping children gain technology
literacy or teaching them that technology is used to expand our knowledge beyond what our senses
can tell us, and to reflect on and share what we find out and make. In that vein, engineering also is
either missing or misunderstood in early childhood. Engineering receives short shriftin K-3
grades, according to a National Science Foundations STEM Smart meeting (Clements et al.,
2016). But children are natural engineers, too, wanting to build things and design solutions, and
this type of play can have beneficial effects in the long term. For example, preschool block building
predicts math achievement as far out as high school (Wolfgang et al., 2001).
To document what we know and what we need to know, the following sections address each of
the four components of STEM. Because all children, including CWD, benefit from high-quality
educational experiences in STEM domains, we first abstract those core characteristics from research
and the wisdom of expert practice. We then address what is known about the teaching and learning
of CWD.
Learning Better Mathematics and Learning Mathematics Better
Research suggests that we teach all children mathematics conceptually,to help them build skills and
ideas, guiding them to use their competencies creatively (National Research Council, 2007). Children
with fluent and adaptive competencies, rather than mere efficiency, can pose problems, make
connections, and then work out these problems in ways that make the connections visible.
Research suggests that the main determinant is ensuring that learning progresses along research-
based trajectories (National Research Council, 2007). A learning trajectory has three components:
a goal, a developmental progression, and instructional activities (Clements & Sarama, 2007; Sarama
& Clements, 2009b). To attain a certain competence in a given mathematics topic (the goal), children
progress through several levels of thinking (the developmental progression, such as in cognitively
guided instruction (Carpenter & Franke, 2004)), aided by tasks and experiences (the instructional
activities) designed to build the mental actions-on-objects that enables thinking at each higher level
(Clements & Sarama, 2004b). As an example, in mathematics, the goal might be for young children
to become competent counters. The developmental progression describes a typical path children
follow in developing an understanding of and skill in counting. For example, they learn number
words, then simple verbal counting; then one-to-one correspondence between counting words and
objects, and then the cardinality concept (connecting the last number of the counting processes to
the cardinal quantity (how many) of a set), and then counting strategies for solving simple
arithmetic problems (Clements & Sarama, 2014a; National Research Council, 2009; Sarama &
Clements, 2009b). Although they share characteristics with other ways to sequence teaching, learning
trajectories are based on a core of subject-specific knowledge, and cognitive science and educational
research focusing on how childrenfrom infancy learn that subject (Clements & Sarama, 2014b). For
example, most curricula, assessments, and professional development leave out critical levels in the
learning trajectory for counting and they include no recognition of the levels research has identified
in topics such as measurement and geometry (Barrett et al., 2017; Sarama & Clements, 2009b).
Teachers who know how to use the three components of a learning trajectory the content, the
levels of thinking, and how to use activities fine-tuned for their childrens level of thinking, as well as
the connections among them are more effective professionals (Appleton, 2003; National Research
Council, 2009,2011; Sarama & Clements, 2009b). Without such knowledge, teachers of young
children often offer tasks that are either too easy or too hard for children and do not recognize
the mismatch (Cooper et al., 2007), especially for CWD (Clements & Sarama, 2014a). When teachers
understand the progression of levels of thinking along these paths, and sequence and individualize
activities based on them, they can build effective mathematics learning environments for all children.
In this way, learning trajectories facilitate appropriate and effective teaching and learning for all
children. Substantial work on standards, curricula, and professional development has been based on
the learning trajectories construct in one form or another (National Research Council, 2009).
A surprising bonus of such an approach is that, rather than replacing other approaches to early
education, rich learning in mathematics can support them. For example, intentional instruction
increases the quality of young childrens play. That is, children in classrooms with a stronger
emphasis on literacy or mathematics are more likely to engage at a higher quality of social-
dramatic play and those that emphasize both have the highest (Aydogan et al., 2005). Given that
the lowest gains in learning come from free play onlyclassrooms, learning (e.g., Van Horn et al.,
2005) and even use of teachable momentsduring play is ineffective (Seo & Ginsburg, 2004;
Weisberg et al., 2015) in these classrooms. However, it is especially encouraging that intentional
teaching of mathematics results in greater learning and these new ideas appear to energize high-level
social-dramatic play activity. Further, playful, rich, meaningful, content-rich education such as this
can benefit children in two domains important to all children, and especially CWD: language
(Sarama et al., 2012) and executive function (Clements et al., 2016,2020).
Some children appear to have specific mathematical disabilities. These are often shown with
measures of number sense.For example, kindergartners who cannot complete number compar-
ison, number conservation, and numeral reading tasks are likely to show persistent difficulties in the
primary grades (Mazzocco & Thompson, 2005). Understanding specific areas of need can help
design programs for individual children. For example, many children benefit from work on
conceptual knowledge and skill in counting or subitizingquick recognition of numbers
(Ashkenazi et al., 2013). Addressing these topics early helps. Strategies from family collaboration
(Kritzer & Pagliaro, 2013), to direct instruction (Chandler et al., 2012) to distinct uses of educational
technology (Chmiliar, 2017; Gay, 1989) have reported successes.
Although the review did not include the youngest children, findings of the National Mathematics
Advisory Panel (2008) inform the teaching of CWD. Explicit instruction with students who have
mathematical difficulties provides consistently positive effects. This does not mean direct instruc-
tion; instead, teachers provide clear models for solving a problem type using multiple concrete
examples, children are provided with repeated experiences applying new strategies and skills,
including opportunities to think aloud (i.e., talk through what they are thinking and doing), with
consistent math talk and feedback from adults. Not all interactions need to be explicit, but some
should be. Following learning trajectories will help ensure CWD develop foundational knowledge of
Importantly, children with disabilities may require modification or adaptations to meet their
learning needs. It is imperative that educators individualize instruction (Dowker, 2004,2017;
Gervasoni & Sullivan, 2007). Moreover, it appears that no particular topic as a whole must precede
another topic. For these reasons, teaching with learning trajectories is an effective way to address the
needs of all children, especially those with disabilities. Using formative assessment is a recommended
strategy for putting learning trajectories to work, especially for children with any type of disability
(Clements & Sarama, 2014a). Furthermore, there is no time too early to intervene (Gersten et al.,
2005). There is substantial evidence that many mathematical difficulties can be avoided or amelio-
rated, but also evidence that our society has not taken the necessary steps to do either. Without such
interventions, children are often relegated to a path of failure (Baroody, 1999; Clements &
Conference Working Group, 2004; Jordan et al., 2003).
In general, however, all children benefit from high-quality mathematics learning experiences.
Children who have not had previous opportunities to learn or who have disabilities need more time
on better mathematics. Further, children who have a wide range of learning needs benefit from
a wide range of teaching strategies and materials. Certainly, a restricted view of mathematics and
mathematics learning (they need worksheets) may prevent recognition of childrens strengths as
well as their need for different ways to learn and express themselves. For example, children who are
non-verbal may act out mathematical ideas and processes, and in so doing, enrich the experiences of
the entire group.
Learning Better Science and Learning Science Better
Early science education should be more than a surface treatment of traditional topics, such as
describing the weather. Such labeling does not develop scientific processes, much less inquiry, as it is
not amenable to manipulation and experimentation. We can do better. Research has identified
learning trajectories for key topics in science and engineering, such as physics and biology, and has
provided evidence that following these pathways is educationally efficacious. Progress has been made
to identify a few core ideas and plan standards, curricula, and teaching around those ideas (Gelman
& Brenneman, 2004; National Research Council, 2007,2011; National Science Teachers Association,
2014) and future research should build on that initial foundation. Science should arguably also
emphasize inquiry processes as much as content (see Figure 1, National Research Council, 2013;
Worth, 2020).
Another bright spot is that high-quality science education emphasizing richer and deeper science
content appears to be effective (e.g., Gelman & Brenneman, 2004; Mantzicopoulos et al., 2009)
although experimental studies and long-term studies are yet to be conducted for most curricula.
Initial research suggests that consistent science experiences are related to childrens vocabulary
growth and use of more complex grammatical structures, such as causal connectives (French,
2004; Peterson & French, 2008). Such experiences also close a gender gap in motivation and interest
(Patrick et al., 2009).
Although little work has been done with CWD, these results suggest that similar meaningful
approaches will benefit all children. That is, because learning trajectories are based on childrens
development, they can be used to differentiate instruction for learners at any level and help them
learn subsequent levels of thinking. The benefits of language are also particularly important for many
CWD. Further, better science experiences emphasizing manipulation and multiple means of engage-
ment can be both accommodations for CWD and opportunities to emphasize their strengths, such as
when children with limited vision show how tactile impressions can be used to determine which side
of a milk container opens for pouring. Such approaches have shown success with preschool CWD
(Lieber et al., 2008). Research also suggests the practicality and value of science within home settings
with young children with disabilities (Bennington, 2004). Such emphases benefit individual children
and society (Leung, 2018). Other recent efforts include successful integration of literacy and science
for children at risk for learning disabilities using UDL (Kurz, 2018) and creating adaptations for
CWD to allow them to engage fully with science experiences (Ashbrook, 2018). Although not
focusing on young children, an additional research synthesis provides guidance on teaching science
to CWD (Asghar et al., 2017)
Technology and Engineering
As mentioned, most research on technology in early childhood largely ignores their educational
engagement with lowertechnologies, qua technologies, so important to young children, such as
pencils, paintbrushes, utensils, magnifying glasses, simple machines, and so on. However, even here,
technology per se is not as much the object of study as tools; either tools children learn to understand and
use in science, math, and engineering, or tools they create and construct (engineering again). Issues such
as materials and textures relate to our senses, and so to science and especially engineering (and lower
technologies are at least present in research-and-development efforts in those domains). Thus, the extant
literature on technology focuses much more on screen time and selection of instructional apps. Here we
address engineering first and then turn to higher, or digital technologies.
Simple engineering, such as block building, and interacting with technology are motivating for
young children (Clements & Sarama, 2014a; National Research Council, 2007,2011; Reifel, 1984;
Sarama & Clements, in press). Early engineering is a relatively young research field, although block
building has been widely studied. For example, preschoolerscompetence building with blocks
predicts the number of mathematics courses they take and their grades in high school (Wolfgang
et al., 2001). Further, developmental progressions for block building are well established (Sarama &
Clements, 2009b). However, there is little beyond correlational studies (Sprafkin et al., 1983, is one
Early engineering writ large has shown considerable activity in recent years (e.g., Blank & Lynch,
2018; Clements & Sarama, 2016; Cohen & Waite-Stupiansky, 2020; Early Childhood STEM
Working Group, 2017; English, 2018; Lange et al., 2019), providing nascent research and practical
Figure 1. Inquiry learning cycle (adapted from Worth, 2020, used with permission).
models of early engineering education. These researchers have declared that engineering design is
the interdisciplinary glueholding STEM education together (Tank et al., 2018, p. 175) because
children learn multiple ideas and approaches to solving complex problems with multiple solutions
possible, learn to use tools and representations adaptively, and come to appreciate that initial
designs often fail,necessitating redesign and improvement (English & Moore, 2018), rather
than abandonment of the design (Papert, 1980). In this way, the goals are often heavily process-
oriented, and developing engineering habits of mind (Besser & Monson, 2014; Lippard et al., 2018;
Van Meeteren, 2018). For example, sophisticated systems thinking of engineers may have its
foundations in such activities as identifying and labeling properties of materials (Cunningham
et al., 2018), identifying limits and possibilities of materials, transferring and applying knowledge
from one situation to another, and flexible management of materials in ways that promote solving
problems in addition to identifying parts of a whole and simple cause and effect within systems
(Lippard et al., 2018, p. 29). Children begin to learn the engineering design process, such as identify
a problem, scope problem and design solution, test solution and get feedback, improve solution,
and share (Portsmore & Milto, 2018), or define and learn (problem identification), then plan, try,
test, decide (Tank et al., 2018). Connections to technology, science, but also general cognitive
abilities from spatial thinking (McGarvey et al., 2018) to executive function (Cunningham et al.,
2018; Van Meeteren, 2018) become clear in such contexts. However, research-and-development in
all these areas remains in its infancy.
Although research on engineering education for CWD is scarce, there are efforts to address
underrepresented groups (e.g., McVee et al., 2017) and to develop STEM instruction using the
Universal Design for Learning framework (Goeke & Ciotoli, 2014). Other efforts have used explicit
instruction to teach science concepts to young children with high incidence disabilities (Knight et al.,
The importance of such experiences with engineering is highlighted in another study. The authors
created a measure of engineering play and found that for all children assessed, it was positively and
significantly associated with spatial translations (rotations), but not most other measures (e.g., math,
other spatial transformations). However, there was an exception relevant here: For children with
disabilities, it was associated with planning, executive function, and geometry (Gold, 2017). Thus,
engagement in engineering may be particularly important for CWD.
Turning to technologies, although there are exceptions, research-and-development in educational
technology has focused largely on literacy, language, mathematics, with some attention to executive
function (admittedly important competencies for CWD). Various types of higher, digital educational
technologies can be used to improve how and what children learn about STEM as well as other
subjects. We briefly describe computer-assisted instruction and then more active, STEM-oriented
Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) is a structured software that instructs or provides practice.
Experiments show that practice software can help young children develop competence in such skills
as number recognition and subitizing, counting, sorting, shapes, and patterns (Rosenfeld et al.,
2019). A review of 16 studies showed that CAI practice can be especially helpful for children who
have mathematical difficulties (MD) or mathematical learning disabilities (MLD) (Harskamp, 2015).
Research reviews of rigorous studies support the position that such applications that are well
designed and implemented have a positive impact on mathematics performance (.29 to .48 SD)
(Harskamp, 2015; National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008; Thompson & Davis, 2014). Properly
chosen, games may also be effective (e.g., Ketamo & Kiili, 2010). One study showed that preschool
CWD given iPads to use in class and at home showed improvements in learning outcomes
throughout six research cycles (Chmiliar, 2017).
Other approaches have also received support for general populations, and they address STEM
more directly as they teach children to use tools for discovery and for problem-solving. For example,
a recent review of 66 studies that met criteria related to experimental threats to internal validity
found positive effects for the use of computer manipulatives (.35 SD) (Moyer-Packenham &
Westenskow, 2013). These effects may be due to the seven advantages of technology-based manip-
ulatives and activities: (1) bringing mathematical ideas and processes to conscious awareness; (2)
encouraging and facilitating complete, precise, explanations; (3) supporting mental actions on
objects; (4) changing the very nature of the manipulative; (5) symbolizing mathematical concepts;
(6) linking the concrete and the symbolic with feedback; and (7) recording and replaying childrens
actions (see also Moyer-Packenham & Westenskow, 2013; Sarama & Clements, 2009a; Sarama et al.,
1996). Recent innovations show the success of tangible manipulatives connected to computers for
young children with disabilities (Marco et al., 2013).
Technologies using a combination of these teaching strategies and tools can help implement
learning trajectories. Manipulative-based, dynamic models can help children develop the founda-
tional understandings, and connections between multiple representations (e.g., manipulatives, spo-
ken words, symbols, and actions) help build understanding and connect childrens own concrete and
symbolic mental representations, all as they learn to use the tools to solve problems. For example, the
Building Blocks software employs a series of technological activities incorporating manipulatives and
board games to progressively develop childrens competencies in the domain of counting, leading to
counting-based addition and subtraction strategies (e.g., requiring counting all, counting on, and
other strategies) (Clements & Sarama, 2007/2018). Brief hints and then tutorials are presented if
children make several consecutive mistakes. A management system moves children along a research-
based learning trajectory, thus employing the powerful educational strategy of formative assessment
to ensure that each child is learning new concepts and skills because the tasks are challenging but
achievable (Hiebert & Grouws, 2007). Use of this synthesized software suite was one of the strongest
mediators of childrens learning (see Box 1); however, the specific contribution of the software
remains confounded. Significantly, in a separate study, the Building Blocks software was shown to be
effective even when used alone with vulnerable children (.43 SD) (Foster et al., 2016). We need other
studies to confirm such results and extend them specifically to CWD. Some research reviews indicate
the promise of such approaches for CWD (Ok & Kim, 2017; Stites, 2019).
Many types of software have children build STEM objects. For early childhood, however, the
oldest and most studied software that teaches all four STEM subjects is, arguably, Logo. In Logos
computer coding, children begin by directing a robot or onscreen turtleto draw geometric shapes.
Many children can draw shapes with pencil and paper. But to draw shapes using Logo commands,
they must analyze the visual aspects of the figure and its movements in drawing it. Writing
a sequence of Logo commands, or a procedure, to draw a figure “…allows, or obliges, the student
to externalize intuitive expectations. When the intuition is translated into a program it becomes
more obtrusive and more accessible to reflection(Papert, 1980, p. 145). Children have shown
greater explicit awareness of the properties of shapes and the meaning of measurements after
working with the turtle (Clements & Sarama, 2014a). Logo is one of the first computer environments
used successfully by CWD, contributing substantially to children with cerebral palsy and other
physical disabilities (Weir, 1979,1981,1989; Weir et al., 1982). Very young children with no mobility
have used a simplified interface and the turtle robot to gain navigation and spatial sense that they
could not develop with their bodies.
Finally, computer coding should not be considered work on virtual worlds only. For example, in
robotics environments or the older Lego-Logo, children are engineers, creating Lego structures,
including lights, sensors, motors, gears, and pulleys, and they control their structures through
computer code. There are but a few studies on LEGO-Logo, but they suggest that such experiences
can positively affect mathematics and science achievement and competencies in higher-order
thinking skills. If started as young as kindergarten, few differences appear between boys and
girls, and both benefit from work with robots (Sullivan & Bers, 2013). Children from 5 to
7 years of age learned modeling, exploring, and evaluating building and programming Lego robots
in Australia (McDonald and Howell, 2012, see also Cook et al., 2010). More research is needed
before firm conclusions can be drawn about this particular application, but it is a clear illustration
that there is no dichotomy between computers and hands-on learning environments. Recent work
has described how very young children at different developmental levels approach programming
arobot,whichisapromisingpathfordesigningfuture engineering experiences. There are efforts
to empower CWD to learn computational thinking and computer programming (Israel et al.,
Beyond mathematical concepts and skills, such work has been shown to increase creativity on
a variety of measures. Once again, high-quality software, implemented well, can have multiple
benefits (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). However, these characteristics are also
important caveats: Both software selection and teaching must be done well, and this can be
challenging (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008)so much so, that it is not the usual
case (Cuban, 2001).
Of course, for some CWD, technology serves as a critical tool for access. Evidence has supported
the use of technology, adaptations, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to promote access and
participation with school-age children with disabilities to the regular education curriculum. The use
of UDL to design and modify curricular activities for school-age children is documented in the
resources of CAST/Universal Design for Learning Center (e.g.,; and These UDL practices have yet to be widely adopted or incorporated into early
childhood curriculum but existing work (e.g., Horn et al., 2016) and recommended practices (e.g.,
Division for Early Childhood, 2014) do illustrate that UDL practices are viable strategies for
application with young children with disabilities to access STEM learning.
Research has shown that modifications and adaptations (often labeled as low-tech assistive
technology devices) including visual supports have been successfully used to improve young children
with disabilitiesparticipation and learning in early childhood settings (Campbell et al., 2006; Kim
et al., 2017; Milbourne & Campbell, 2007). However, because assistive technology (AT) is often
viewed through a lens of functional skills such as communication or mobility, selecting adaptations
and AT has not been viewed as the responsibility of practitioners but of specialists and related
service providers who do not have sufficient knowledge of early childhood or STEM curriculum to
effectively use AT and other adaptations to support access to these curricular areas (Karlsson et al.,
2017). Also, although specific adaptations and assistive technologies (
have suggested effectiveness with young children with disabilities (Sadao & Robinson, 2010; Stauter
et al., 2019; Trivette et al., 2010), few describe outcomes of using these interventions (Donegan-
Ritter, 2017). Again, this is an area urgently needing research.
Although benefits of assistive devices may be palpable for children of all ages, including infants
and toddlers (Judge et al., 2010), the advantages of a wide range of educational technologies need to
be more widely researched, documented, and disseminated, because many teachers retain a bias
against educational technology. For example, many teaching in middle-SES schools believe it is
inappropriateto have technology in classrooms for young children.
Barriers to Teaching STEM
There are multiple barriers to the inclusion of STEM in early childhood education, with implications
for CWD. Here we briefly mention three categories.
Harmful Beliefs about CWD and STEM
As we have said, CWD have lower levels of STEM achievement because of a lack of opportunities to
learn (Clements & Sarama, 2014a; Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council
(NRC), 2015). The opportunity gap may be one of the most pernicious of all, as it is exacerbated by
a (conscious or unconscious) belief that CWD are unable to engage with STEM or that their
disabilities require that education be focused on basic life and academic skills, precluding more
advanced or scientific and mathematical (esoteric) educational goals (Bishop & Forgasz, 2007;
Ginsburg et al., 2006; McClure et al., 2017; Wright & Moskal, 2014). This is a tragic bias because
starting STEM learning as early as possible may be especially important for children with disabilities
(Aubrey et al., 2006; Claessens & Engel, 2011; Duncan et al., 2007; Sarama et al., 2018).
Harmful False Dichotomies
Early childhood is replete with debates that pit one approach of education against another. A basic
false dichotomy is Play vs. academics.Of course, children should play. But this does not mean they
should not learn, and even play with, the worlds of science, mathematics, literacy, and social
emotional development (Clements & Sarama, 2014a). Consider that in their free play, children
naturally engage in mathematics and science van Oers. Research shows that typically developing
preschoolers engage in mathematical thinking at least once in almost half of each minute of play (Seo
& Ginsburg, 2004). Many adults, including early educators, believe that sequenced, intentional
instruction will harm childrens play (Sarama, 2002; Sarama & DiBiase, 2004). Yet others have
identified this type of instruction as critical to child outcomes in Kindergarten (Farran et al., 2007).
Further, math and literacy instruction actually increase the quality of young childrens play. Children
in classrooms with a stronger emphasis on math or literacy are more likely to engage in a higher
quality of social-dramatic play (Aydogan et al., 2005). Thus, high-quality instruction in math and
high-quality free play do not have to competefor time in the classroom. Doing both makes each
richer. Given that both these domains, as well as cognitive competencies such as executive function
that are developed by rich experiences in each, are critical to CWD (Clements et al., 2016), only
a synthesis of them can be justified.
Other debates in the field concern the role of subject-matter curricula. Arguments have arisen
about new emphases on math taking time away from literacy. Science, engineering, and computer
technology are rarely mentioned, while literacy receives so much curricular attention that it has been
called a curricular bully(Cervetti et al., 2006). Yet some aspects of literacy, particularly the
opportunity to engage with informational, or expository texts, receive limited attention in early
childhood classrooms (Duke et al., 2003; Pentimonti et al., 2010). Further, STEM experiences
support literacy and language development (Paprzycki et al., 2017; Sarama et al., 2018,2012). The
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) call for unprecedented attention to informational text in
kindergarten and much more sophisticated skills in learning content from text; US. early childhood
classrooms do little to prepare children for these new expectations. Such interdisciplinary connec-
tions and transfer are beneficial to all children, especially CWD.
Negative Dispositions and Beliefs
A substantial barrier to high-quality teaching is widespread negative dispositions and beliefs. One
deeply embedded cultural belief in the US. is that achievement in mathematics depends mostly on
native aptitude or ability. In contrast, people from other countries such as Japan believe that
achievement comes from effort. Even more disturbing, research shows that the US. belief hurts
teachers and children and, further, that it is just not true. Children who believe or are helped to
understand that they can learn if they work on tasks longer and achieve better throughout their
school careers than children who believe that one either has it(or gets it) or does not. This view
often leads to failure and learned helplessness.Similarly, children who have mastery-oriented goals
(i.e., children who try to learn and see the point of school to develop knowledge and skills) achieve
more than children whose goals are directed toward high grades or outperforming others (National
Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). Further, even children classified as having a learning disability
can learn from investigations if given appropriate time and accommodations to do so (Baroody,
Early childhood teachers frequently hold negative dispositions and beliefs about mathematics and
science, including dislike, trepidation, fear, and a doubt in their own efficacy (Huinker & Madison,
1997; Philipp, 2007). These beliefs lead to undervaluing the teaching of math, avoiding or
minimizing mathematics instruction, and they interfere with effective mathematics teaching
(Ashcraft et al., 1998; Huinker & Madison, 1997; Lee & Ginsburg, 2007; Philipp, 2007; Sarama &
DiBiase, 2004). Many early childhood teachers take a careless attitude towards mathematics(Lee &
Ginsburg, 2007) and do not appreciate its role in childrens development. Similar trends appear for
science: one report, which drew from a 2013 national survey of science teachers, showed that only
19 percent of grade K-2 classes receive science instruction on a daily or almost daily basis (Cuban,
2013). Furthermore, the strongest predictor of preschoolerslearning of mathematics is their
teachersbelief that mathematics education was appropriate for that age (Şeker & Alisinanoğlu,
2015). In one study, the strongest predictor of preschoolerslearning of mathematics was their
teachersbelief that mathematics education was appropriate for that age (Şeker & Alisinanoğlu,
2015). Use of learning trajectories helps support that belief (Clements et al., 2015; Sarama et al.,
Children also need more positive beliefs and attitudes about STEM. As early as the primary
grades, mathematics anxiety hurts childrens mathematics achievement (Wu et al., 2012). Even
primary grade children who score high on working memory but who also have mathematics anxiety,
perform lower in mathematics achievement, because working memory capacity is co-opted by
anxiety (Ramirez et al., 2013). Primary graders who felt panickyabout mathematics have increased
activity in brain regions associated with fear, which decreased activity in brain regions involved in
problem-solving. Early identification and treatment of mathematics anxieties may prevent children
with high potential (higher working memory) from avoiding mathematics courses (Ramirez et al.,
2013). Fortunately, most very young children have positive feelings about mathematics and are
motivated to explore numbers and shapes. However, after only a couple of years in typical schools,
they begin to believe that only some people have the ability to do mathematics.This affects CWD
particularly perniciously, as teachers often abandon conceptual and investigative approaches that are
appropriate (Baroody, 1996; National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008) to turn to low-level skill
drill. Children who experience mathematics as a sense-making activity, rather than a series of time
tests (Young et al., 2012), will build positive feelings about mathematics throughout their school
Similarly, it is fortunate that we can change teachersnegative dispositions and beliefs with high-
quality preservice and professional development (Huinker & Madison, 1997; Sarama & DiBiase,
2004), a subject to which we turn.
Inadequate Professional Development
Although children are ready and eager to learn (National Research Council, 2001), many early
childhood teachers are not eager and prepared to engage children in rich experiences in domains
other than literacy (Brenneman, Stevenson-Boyd et al., 2009; Clements & Sarama, 2009; Institute of
Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC), 2015; National Research Council (2007);
Sarama (2002); Sarama and Clements (2009b); Sarama & DiBiase, 2004) or work with children with
disabilities. (Chang et al., 2005; Maxwell et al., 2006). Teachers of young children historically have
not been prepared to teach domain-specific knowledge to young children (Isenberg, 2000). Inservice
professional development is similar. Despite the existence of learning standards and increased
curricular attention to mathematics and science, these disciplines tend not to be emphasized. Of
50 state-funded preschool programs, 41 require at least 15 hours of in-service training per year, but
content decisions are made locally, and STEM is usually ignored (Barnett et al., 2009; Sarama et al.,
2018). Professional development must also move beyond limited, one-shot workshops to help
teachers explore content and pedagogy in depth (Garet et al., 2001; Sarama & DiBiase, 2004) and
to address widespread anxiety and distaste for mathematics among teachers of young children
(Copley, 2004) that correlates with their childrens achievement, especially that of girls (Beilock
et al., 2010). Similarly, more extensive professional development is sorely needed in science, ideally
involving multi-year efforts that focus on both subject-matter content and pedagogy (Scher &
OReilly, 2009). Finally, teachers are rarely helped to use evidence-based practices to support STEM
learning when working with young children with disabilities (McClure et al., 2017).
Certifications or degrees alone are not reliable predictors of high-quality teaching (Early et al.,
2007; National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). This is probably due to the wide variety and
uneven quality of certification programs. Further, early childhood faculty fail to incorporate early
STEM into their programs of study (Clements et al., 2016). Of particular concern is that faculty do
not seem to think that STEM is important for any age and especially for infants and toddlers (Austin,
Sakai et al., 2015; Austin, Whitebook et al., 2015; Copeman Petig et al., 2018). Unfortunately, most
college programs still offer one or no mathematics for teacherscourses (Ginsburg et al., 2006).
Only half of the faculty across all degree levels feel prepared to teach math content related to infants
and toddlers (Austin, Sakai et al., 2015; Austin, Whitebook et al., 2015; Copeman Petig et al., 2018;
Isenberg, 2000).
Similarly, faculty may not be prepared to teach content related to including or working with
children with disabilities. Community college faculty across the nation (N = 143) reported low levels
of knowledge, comfort, and emphasis on evidence-based practices to support children with dis-
abilities (Lim, Blasco, & Zheng, 2018). Additionally, survey research indicates that few faculty have
any knowledge of AT or of the systematic use of technology or other adaptations to promote access
to curriculum materials or participation in curricular activities (Bruder, 2016; Authors et al., 2018).
Knowledge of assistive technology generally emphasizes devices and their enhancement of functional
skills (e.g., wheelchair for mobility; communication device for expressive speech) rather than their
use as a way of accessing instructional curriculum or materials (Sadao & Robinson, 2010). No
research is available related to coursework on STEM learning for children with disabilities.
It is clear that early childhood faculty also need professional development (PD) and technical
assistance (TA) in order to support their implementation of evidence-based practices that will, in
turn, support preservice and in-service practitioners in implementing with fidelity evidence-based
practices that support young children with disabilities (Bruder, 2016; Chang et al., 2005; Winton
et al., 2016).
More direct measures of what teachers know about mathematics and the learning and teaching of
mathematics do predict the quality of their teaching (Hill et al., 2005; National Mathematics
Advisory Panel, 2008). In general, research suggests that effective in-service professional develop-
ment in early STEM is ongoing, intentional, reflective, goal-oriented, focused on content knowledge
and childrens thinking, grounded in particular curriculum materials, and situated in the classroom
(Birman et al., 2007; Drake et al., 2014; Sarama & Clements, 2015; Zaslow et al., 2010). The notion
that professional development be situated in the classroom does not imply that all training occurs
within classrooms. Using research-based curricula can help teachers learn to teach STEM, but
teachers need to understand all three components of learning trajectories: goals (the STEM content),
developmental progressions, and instructional activities, and this appears to be too heavy a burden to
put on curricula alone, even those designed to be educative (Drake et al., 2014). Off-site intensive
training focused on these three components as well as the connections among them, is important,
but also must be connected to classroom practice. Completing such high-quality professional
development is classroom-based enactment with feedback and support from coaches in real time
(Garet et al., 2001; Sarama & Clements, 2015;Zaslow et al., 2010). The focus of practice-based
coaching (Snyder et al., 2015) is to develop high-quality environments and have high-quality
interactions with children within those environments (Burchinal et al., 2010). With these elements,
professional development based on learning trajectories is effective (Bredekamp, 2004; Clements &
Sarama, 2004a; Simon, 1995). Multiple researchers have found that professional development
focused on developmental progressions increases not only teachersprofessional knowledge but
also their childrens motivation and achievement (Clarke, 2004; Clarke et al., 2001,2002; Fennema
et al., 1996; Kühne et al., 2005; Thomas & Ward, 2001; Wright et al., 2002). Thus, learning
trajectories can facilitate developmentally appropriate teaching and learning for all children (c.f.
Brown et al., 1995), including those with disabilities.
Success with the Building Blocks and TRIAD (scale-up) projects is arguably largely attributable to
such professional development, organized around learning trajectories (Clements & Sarama, 2008).
Several other projects also report success with variations of that approach (Bright et al., 1997; Wright
et al., 2002). All of these projects included far more extensive and intensive professional development
than the usual one-shot workshop, ranging from 5 to 14 full days. This approach not only resulted in
children gains (including CWD, who made equivalent gains), but, in contrast to the common finding
of decreased implementation fidelity after the introduction of a new intervention, TRIAD teachers
increased the quantity and quality of their preschool teaching as long as two (Clements et al., 2015)
to six years (Sarama et al., 2016) after the end of the professional development.
In summary, inadequate professional development consequently produces few pre-service or in-
service teachers who have themselves achieved proficiency with elementary-level STEM content, and
who are therefore ill-equipped to foster STEM proficiencies of young children (National Research
Council, 2009; Sarama et al., 2018). Similarly, teachers lack the competence and confidence to work
with children with disabilities as a result of inadequate and ineffective professional development
(Chang et al., 2005). This must change, using research-validated approaches. For example, initial
teacher preparation that focuses only on teachersspecific behaviors has a less positive effect than
a focus on teachersknowledge of the subject, on the curriculum, or on how children learn the
subject (Ball & Forzani, 2011; Philipp, 2007). When teachers learn STEM topics in same joyful,
playful, contextualized, and inquisitive ways that we suggest children do, with a belief that all their
children, including CWD, are capable of engaging in STEM, teacherslearning is more effective
(Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998; Sarama et al., 2018).
Families and STEM
There is little research on supporting families with implementing STEM activities for young children
with disabilities, which is unfortunate because families are childrens first and longest lasting
teachers, including in the STEM domains (McClure et al., 2017). Family engagement in young
childrens learning has a consistently positive effect on childrens learning, with the relation strongest
when that engagement takes place outside of school, such as playing with shapes, puzzles, or blocks
together at home (Van Voorhis et al., 2013). Despite this, little attention has been focused on
supporting STEM in homes, especially for infants and toddlers. The Division for Early Childhood
(2014) Recommended Practices include family capacity-building practices that can be used to
strengthen existing parental knowledge and skills and promote the development of new abilities
and practices. These are especially important as the majority of services for infants and toddlers with
developmental delays and disabilities occur in the home (U.S. Department of Education, 2017), with
early intervention providers coaching families so that they can implement interventions when service
providers leave. Families are more likely to implement and use intervention practices when they
understand the benefits of the activity (Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, 2018).
Of course, due to lack of opportunities to engage and learn, families may have similar misconcep-
tions and negative attitudes toward STEM. Many Americans believe that STEM is for older children
and is best taught formally in classrooms (McClure et al., 2017, Appendix B). To build a familys
capacity, early intervention providers need to support families with integrating intervention practices
into everyday activities and routines, ensure that parents understand how to appropriately respond
to their childrens behavior, and provide supports to families that allow them to enhance their childs
interaction with people and objects (Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, 2018). These
practices can be applied to, and may be particularly important for, the STEM domains. That is,
overly didactic (flash cards) and often inaccurate (e.g., erupting volcanos) can be minimized,
replaced by appropriate, engaging, and playful, but profound, STEM experiences with the family
(McClure et al., 2017).
The STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center
To illustrate productive reactions to these research syntheses, concretize these recommendations,
and present a nascent resource, we describe the the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early
Education (STEMIIEE or STEMI
) Center. This Center, is developing and enhancing the
knowledge on the practices and supports necessary to increase access and participation for young
children with disabilities in STEM learning opportunities in a variety of settings (see https:// The goals of the project are to (1) increase the body of knowledge of current
evidence-based practices for early STEM learning, including early computer science learning for
young children with disabilities; (2) increase the use by early childhood programs, providers, and
families of current evidence-based practices in early STEM learning for young children with
disabilities; and (3) increase the awareness of high-education faculty of the current evidence-based
practices in early STEM learning and increase the focus on early STEM within programs of study.
These goals are achieved through key activities including (1) developing and refining a model of
evidence-based practices, processes, and learning trajectories in early science, technology, engineer-
ing, and math (STEM) learning and inclusion in early intervention and early childhood education;
(2) using rapid cycles of testing to test the model within incubators(i.e., diverse early childhood
and early intervention programs); (3) conducting a state of STEM analyses of current needs of the
field, literature on early STEM learning, and state early learning guidelines; and (4) developing and
implementing innovative, evidence-based approaches to professional development and technical
assistance that moves beyond the train-and-hopementality with episodic efforts to support faculty
and early childhood/early intervention programs in ensuring that all children, including CWD can
engage and participate in high-quality STEM learning.
In summary, the STEMI
Center will both synthesize and produce research. We encourage
others to engage in this crucial but neglected field. What are effective ways to address the modifiable
factorsthat are barriers to teachers and children in STEM education? As a specific example, how do
we confront the tragic bias that CWD are unable to engage with STEM, or that their disabilities
require education that is focused on basic life and academic skills, precluding STEM education?
What approaches to science and engineering help engage, motivate, and teach young CWD? How
can teachers, caregivers, early intervention providers, and families be better supported to develop
STEM interests and competencies? Do extant STEM learning trajectories need to be modified to
better support CWD? If so, do the developmental progressions need to be refined, or are modifica-
tions to instruction the key to successful application to all children? How can educational technology
in all its forms be used to support STEM learning for CWD? How can effective interventions, once
validated, be brought to scale?
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).
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... Creating more-accessible and welcoming environments was identified as an equity and diversity featured as a topic in 17 percent of the papers in this scoping review (n = 33). STEM and STEAM experiences in early childhood were identified as means to challenge longstanding inequities in skills, ability and opportunity in STEM-related fields, particularly for children in lower socio-economic situations, children living in disadvantage, children with disabilities, gifted children and females [73][74][75]. Positive early STEM experiences were associated with long-term benefits as a result of the development of positive attitudes and dispositions towards STEM as well as self-efficacy. However, some complexities in achieving equity were identified. ...
... The review shows a recognised value of STEM and STEAM in play-based experiences for young children as a way to address inequity, particularly when the diverse experience and knowledge that children bring from their home and community contexts are recognised and incorporated. Acknowledgement of the potential for early STEM/STEAM learning to interrupt long-standing social inequities is a key finding of this review, including inequities relating to poverty, disadvantage, lower socio-economic status, gender, race and culture, language, disability and giftedness [3,59,73]. The review presents the potential for STEAM experiences to provide important foundational knowledge and confidence that underpins later learning and academic achievement, as well as for later career opportunities and success [1]. ...
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STEM has emerged as a key area of importance for children, highlighting the value and relevance of integrated understandings of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in both educational contexts and everyday life. The need for innovation and creativity is also recognised, which emphasizes the important role the arts can play as STEM is extended into STEAM. This scoping review investigated what is known about STEM, STEAM and makerspace experiences and opportunities for children aged birth to eight. The review found that early childhood experience with STEM, STEAM and makerspaces is an emerging field of research. Findings suggest that STEAM holds more relevance to learning and experiences in the early childhood years, and perhaps across the lifespan. The review also highlights the need to shift the starting point to the earliest of years and create greater intentionality in STEAM experiences with infants, toddlers and preschool aged children, recognizing the relevance of STEAM and maker mindsets in the lives of young children. Additionally, the scoping review identified the value of informal and community contexts as a means to invite broader participation. Such opportunities provide scope to challenge inequity in opportunity and to overcome intergenerational aversion towards STEM/STEAM-related learning. Further research is needed to understand the professional learning needs of early childhood educators and facilitators of STEAM and makerspace experiences.
... This merely scratches the surface of science content, highlighting the significant opportunity for further research into the progression of children's science conceptual understanding (Allen & Kambouri-Danos, 2017). Indeed, this call to action has been heard, with progress being made toward developing and refining evidenced-based learning trajectories in science, engineering, and technology to promote learning and inclusion in early childhood settings (Clements et al., 2021). Children's scientific thinking involves the development of not only scientific content, but also the process skills that underpin the procedures of scientific investigation such as observation, prediction, and communication (Guarrella, 2021). ...
... Importantly, this positions the teacher as a proactive influencer of learning in play rather than being reactive to child-directed play with limited influence on learning. We encourage continued efforts to support teachers to apply learning progressions in science, and indeed all areas of STEM, to support the learning of every child (Clements et al., 2021). ...
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In many countries, play is the vehicle for teaching and learning, requiring early childhood teachers to recognize and assess children's demonstrations of knowledge and capabilities as they are displayed during play. In the context of science learning, assessing what children know already, referred to as “assessment for learning,” equips teachers with the knowledge required to make purposeful decisions during these playful experiences and guide children's science process skill development while following their interests. Consistent evidence since the introduction of national quality standards in Australia has identified a need to strengthen teacher capabilities in assessment. This research investigated teachers' assessment practices, and the influences on these practices, during the implementation of a suite of playful science experiences in long day care and preschool settings in the Northern Territory (NT), Australia. Teachers were introduced to the NT Preschool Science Games and were supported to apply an assessment tool designed for the observation and development of science process skills. Adopting a multiple case study approach, semistructured interviews from three cases were thematically analyzed. Our findings demonstrate that despite having specific tools to support assessment for learning these were inconsistently applied. Thematic analysis of semistructured interviews revealed that assessment practice was influenced by contextual influences, affective responses and teaching practice. Unpacking these themes further, we identified that following children's interests was associated with the absence of systematic assessment of scientific thinking to inform planning for learning within the informal curriculum. To support teacher practice in early childhood science, and promote the assessment of children's capabilities within playful learning, we propose a model of Assessment for playful learning.
... The importance of early exposure to STEM is reported by a number of scholars (e.g. Bagiati et al. 2015;Li et al. 2020;Kalogiannakis and Papadakis 2020;Wan, Jiang, and Zhan 2021;Clements et al. 2021). Preschool and first years of elementary school provide the foundation for future learning in STEM as, for example, early experiences of science enhance children's self-belief in their ability to learn science, while mathematical skills developed at an early age are predictors of later academic success (Campbell et al. 2018). ...
The purpose of this study is to investigate teachers’ practices and views of STEM activities for children aged 4-7 years old. The participants are 18 Greek teachers and data is collected via interviews. Commonly reported reasons for the importance of STEM education are the development of skills, knowledge, and children’s interest for learning, while the skills children develop, include collaboration, communication, socialization, problem-solving, experimentation, critical thinking, programming, creativity, and language/literacy. STEM activities implemented in class are programming, robotics and interdisciplinary activities, as well as experiments and exploration of materials. The primary factors considered when preparing STEM activities are children’s interest-motivation, their cognitive level or age, and the learning outcomes. Teachers’ perceived challenges mainly regard experiential learning, children’s interest and active participation, while main problems include limited time, infrastructure, and teacher training. Implications for educational policy-practice and teacher training are discussed.
This chapter examines contemporary research regarding play, digital play, and play-based learning in the early years. We commence with a brief account of play guided by the theories of constructivism and sociocultural theory, as these theories underpin most teaching approaches in the early years.
In Chaps. 2 and 5, we focussed on the STEM learning that happens in early years centres in the presence of early childhood educators, and how these educators can be supported with well-planned and delivered professional development.
Thus far, we have focussed on the macro issues of the social, pedagogical, and economic perspectives of STEM discussed in Chap. 2; the impact of digital technologies on children’s learning in Chap. 3; and the role of play and play-based learning in Chap. 4. In this chapter, we turn our attention towards early childhood educators who are largely responsible for ensuring a positive experience of STEM for young children.
This book is intended for researchers and educators interested in current best practices for supporting STEM engagement and learning in the early years. For the purposes of this book, the early years are the years from preschool to year three, approximately 4–8 years of age.
Research Findings: High quality STEM professional learning is necessary for supporting early educators to implement early childhood STEM education in ways that promote young children’s development. This is particularly important for educators serving young children of color or from under-resourced backgrounds who have few STEM early learning opportunities. The STEM Lab intervention was designed to address multiple barriers early educators face regarding STEM education by providing designated time, space, materials and professional learning for teachers targeting STEM education. This study engaged 47 preschool educators serving primarily African American and Latinx children from under-resourced families in the STEM Lab intervention. Observational data identified higher quality teacher-child interactions in the STEM Lab lessons compared to regular classroom experiences, particularly for instructional quality. While STEM opportunities were rare in the regular classroom, multiple observations across the school year in the STEM Labs found that teachers used a range of quality science and engineering practices in the STEM Lab and improved in their skills across the school year. Practice or Policy: The STEM Lab intervention demonstrates promise for engaging educators and young children in quality science learning opportunities. Administrative policy is necessary to promote STEM Lab experiences.
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Policies related to the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream classrooms have led to questions regarding how teachers can help cultivate inclusive learning communities where all children are supported and valued. In play-based kindergarten programs, teachers are tasked with ensuring goals for children’s learning and development are cultivated in play. However, debates persist regarding the optimal role of the teacher in play and how to meaningfully support the play of children with disabilities. The current multiple case study explored the perspectives and approaches of three kindergarten teachers who highly valued, and strived to enable, participation and inclusion in play-based learning, referred to here as enactors. A minimum of three hours of observation were conducted in each classroom in the fall, and semi-structured teacher interviews were conducted in the fall and spring of the school year. Enactors shared some common themes related to implementing play-based learning to promote inclusion, including a balance of child agency and teacher guidance, involvement that is child-centred and flexible, and the importance of supporting social interactions in play. These views informed both common and unique practices observed in play, including one-on-one conversations, supporting small groups, becoming an active play partner, and collaboratively addressing problems that arose in play. These results illustrate ways enactors gave meaning to the concept of inclusion through their play practices, providing salient examples of play alongside teachers’ craft knowledge to help support inclusive play-based learning practices going forward.
This study investigates whether and how the integration of technology and media improves early mathematics outcomes for low-income preschoolers. The study sample was 966 children and 137 teachers in 86 preschool classrooms in California and New York. Preschool classrooms were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: a 10-week PBS KIDS Transmedia Math Supplement condition that supported teachers through an organized sequence of hands-on and digital mathematics activities; a Technology & Media condition that provided teachers with media resources out of context, or a Business-As-Usual (BAU) condition. The media resources were drawn from four PBS KIDS programs: Curious George, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, Sid the Science Kid, and Dinosaur Train. Children in the PBS KIDS Transmedia Math Supplement condition exhibited significantly higher scores on a researcher-developed measure of counting, number recognition and subitizing, shapes, and patterns than did children in the Technology & Media condition (1.43 points, effect size = 0.22, p < 0.001) and the BAU condition (1.51 points, effect size = 0.24, p < 0.001). Marginally significant effects for the same contrasts were found when analyzing the data collected using a standardized assessment of early math knowledge. Teachers in the PBS KIDS Transmedia Math Supplement condition generally implemented the Supplement as intended, and required less coaching support over the course of the study period. In contrast, teachers in the Media & Technology condition continued to use coaches with greater frequency throughout the study period, relying on them particularly for support with the mathematics and with the selection and integration of digital resources to match learning goals. Furthermore, teachers who enacted the PBS KIDS Transmedia Math Supplement significantly improved their beliefs about their own mathematics knowledge and the benefits of technology experiences for preschoolers.
“Teachers are the key to academic achievement for students.” This statement is widely accepted, but professional development in early childhood mathematics education faces a number of barriers. What are those barriers? What do teachers have to say about developing their own knowledge of the teaching and learning of mathematics? What should be done to address these problems? Answering these questions was the goal of a recent project funded by the National Science Foundation called “Planning for Professional Development in Pre-School Mathematics: Meeting the Challenge of Standards 2000.” This article shares some of the answers I found in the course of that project.
This book addresses engineering learning in early childhood, spanning ages 3 to 8 years. It explores why engineering experiences are important in young children's overall development and how engineering is a core component of early STEM learning, including how engineering education links and supports children's existing experiences in science, mathematics, and design and technology, both before school and in the early school years. Promoting STEM education across the school years is a key goal of many nations, with the realization that building STEM skills required by societies takes time and needs to begin as early as possible. Despite calls from national and international organisations, the inclusion of engineering-based learning within elementary and primary school programs remains limited in many countries. Engineering experiences for young children in the pre-school or early school years has received almost no attention, even though young children can be considered natural engineers. This book addresses this void by exposing what we know about engineering for young learners, including their capabilities for solving engineering-based problems and the (few) existing programs that are capitalising on their potential.
Constructivist theory has been prominent in recent research on mathematics learning and has provided a basis for recent mathematics education reform efforts. Although constructivism has the potential to inform changes in mathematics teaching, it offers no particular vision of how mathematics should be taught; models of teaching based on constructivism are needed. Data are presented from a whole-class, constructivist teaching experiment in which problems of teaching practice required the teacher/researcher to explore the pedagogical implications of his theoretical (constructivist) perspectives. The analysis of the data led to the development of a model of teacher decision making with respect to mathematical tasks. Central to this model is the creative tension between the teacher's goals with regard to student learning and his responsibility to be sensitive and responsive to the mathematical thinking of the students.
Bringing together a diverse cohort of experts, STEM in Early Childhood Education explores the ways STEM can be integrated into early childhood curricula, highlighting recent research and innovations in the field, and implications for both practice and policy. Based on the argument that high-quality STEM education needs to start early, this book emphasizes that early childhood education must include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in developmentally appropriate ways based on the latest research and theories. Experienced chapter authors address the theoretical underpinnings of teaching STEM in the early years, while contextualizing these ideas for the real world using illustrative examples from the classroom. This cutting-edge collection also looks beyond the classroom to how STEM learning can be facilitated in museums, nature-based learning outdoors, and after school programs. STEM in Early Childhood Education is an excellent resource for aspiring and veteran educators alike, exploring the latest research, providing inspiration, and advancing best practices for teaching STEM in the early years.