Learning Engineering through Block Play: STEM in Preschool

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... Among them, studies on STEM in early childhood education (ECE) have revealed that children can be involved in STEM education from a very early age (Davis, Cunningham, and Lachapelle 2017) and STEM education increases children's engagement in learning activities (Miller, Sonnert, and Sadler 2018). Studies have also indicated that STEM contributes to the preschoolers' learning in terms of science, engineering, and math-related concepts and skills (Clements and Sarama 2016;Gold, Elicker, and Beaulieu 2020) and increases their creativity (Üret and Ceylan 2021) and that preschoolers could develop an attitude towards engineering, consider engineering as a career path, and develop an interest in engineering (Cunningham 2009;Fralick et al. 2009). Moreover, having complete perceptions of engineers and engineering (PoEE) is important for children to be willing to participate in engineering-related activities and thus to obtain the improvements that engineering activities can provide them (Thompson and Lyons 2008). ...
... Moreover, based on the fact that play is the best way for preschoolers to learn (Sheridan 2011), the use of engineering-based play practices which enables them to think and act as if engineers (Fleer 2020) can allow children to explore engineering through handson, familiar, and enjoyable experiences (e.g. Gold et al. 2020;Torres-Crespo et al. 2014). This study recommends to ECE teachers and researchers that they provide children with more practices making them discover engineering through developmentally appropriate engineering design activities and engineering-based play practices. ...
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This study aimed to explore how preschoolers perceive engineers and engineering by using their drawings. For this aim, phenomenography was used as a research approach. The data were collected using the draw-and-tell technique and through the drawing and explanation related parts of the Draw an Engineer Test. Totally, 436 preschool children from 16 different cities in Turkey were asked to draw an engineer and narrate their drawings. The data were analyzed using inductive content analysis. Findings indicated that some children did not reveal an understanding of engineer or engineering via their drawings (n = 50). A limited number of children (n = 17) had a perception of engineer parallel to the definition of the engineer in the literature. Most children (n = 199) tended to perceive engineering as a male-specific and physical work and represented engineers while working outdoors (n = 147); building structures or constructing machinery (n = 156). This research implies that preschoolers should have a higher amount of opportunity to explore engineering in everyday life with the empowerment of teachers, parents, and community members.
... Methods to evaluate children's problem-solving skills and knowledge tend to fall into several categories: (1) analysis of children's discourse during free play (i.e., [37,38]); (2) observations of children at play [39]; curriculum-specific observation protocols for researchers and teachers (i.e., [40]); (3) evaluation of engineering habits of mind ( [13]); and (4) assessment of children's science and engineering knowledge through pictorial measures [41]. Of these categories, only the last one, which doesn't measure problemsolving skills, has been validated. ...
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In the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), problem-solving skills are part of science and engineering practices for K–12 students in the United States. Evaluating these skills for the youngest learners is difficult due to the lack of established measures. This paper reports on our process of developing an observation instrument to measure preschool children’s learning and their application of problem-solving skills, namely, the steps of the engineering design process (EDP). The instrument, Engineering Preschool Children Observation Tool (EPCOT), was intended to evaluate the frequencies of problem-solving behaviors and use of EDP-related vocabulary by observing preschoolers engaged with the Seeds of STEM eight-unit curriculum in the classroom. In this paper, we describe the development process and revision of EPCOT, its current constructs, and present descriptive findings from using the tool in a pilot study with sixteen classrooms: eight intervention classrooms who received the entire curriculum, and eight comparison classrooms who received only the eighth unit of the curriculum (to enable comparison). We found that, out of 34 possible behaviors across the problem-solving process, children in all classrooms engaged in 31 unique problem-solving behaviors, suggesting that preschool children are indeed capable of meaningfully engaging in solving problems. We also observed a trend that children who were exposed to more of the curriculum (the intervention group) produced more novel vocabulary words than those in the comparison group, who tended to repeat vocabulary words. Since EPCOT was developed in alignment with state and national standards, we believe it has the potential to be used with other early childhood engineering/problem-solving curricula.
... mathematics, spatial ability; Gold 2017; Gold et al. 2020a), and foster children's early interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as a future career. In a study involving 10 classroom teachers, Gold et al. (2020b) implemented and evaluated a feasibility intervention to field test engineering play as a teaching tool for the first time. The intervention facilitated teachers' understanding of: (1) the engineering design process; (2) how to identify engineering processes in children's peer play; and (3) how to facilitate children's engineering play behaviors during constructive peer play with blocks. ...
Engineering play is a new perspective for understanding young children’s play as a design process, paralleling the way engineers think and work to problem-solve (Bairaktarova et al. Child Youth Environ 21(2):212–235, 2011). Just as children enjoy planning and building with peers, engineers work collaboratively. The focus of this chapter is: is an engineering play perspective useful for framing the ways children play together? How does viewing children’s social constructive play as engineering help adults to support children’s development and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning? Previous research suggests children engage in process-focused play when there is opportunity to design and construct with novel materials like blocks or other loose parts (Brophy and Evangelou Precursors to engineering thinking (PET). In: Proceedings of the annual conference of the American Society of Engineering Education, Washington, DC, 2007). Observational research during preschoolers’ social constructive free play resulted in identification of nine engineering play categories (Gold et al. Child Youth Environ 25:1–21, 2015). This chapter makes the case that engineering play is useful for three reasons: (1) to understand valuable peer play processes during social constructive play; (2) as a perspective adults can use to support development and learning in several areas; and (3) to increase young children’s early STEM awareness and interest. We describe the development of this emerging field and discuss implications of an engineering play perspective for research and teaching.
... mathematics, spatial ability; Gold 2017; Gold et al. 2020a), and foster children's early interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as a future career. In a study involving 10 classroom teachers, Gold et al. (2020b) implemented and evaluated a feasibility intervention to field test engineering play as a teaching tool for the first time. The intervention facilitated teachers' understanding of: (1) the engineering design process; (2) how to identify engineering processes in 72 children's peer play; and (3) how to facilitate children's engineering play behaviors during constructive peer play with blocks. ...
This chapter draws upon the cultural-historical concepts of perezhivanie and the social situation of development to understand the role of a digital device in one public primary school in Saudi Arabia for fostering peer collaboration. The study found that students appeared to show their readiness to engage collaboratively as a spontaneous and unintentional sort of collaboration (initiative, helping and explaining, sharing the work roles and monitoring). The cultural-historical study gave the possibility for gaining deep understandings of the ways the children collaborate with each other when a digital device is introduced for the first time within an ongoing learning environment. The findings give guidance on how to support appropriate integration of digital devices into the early learning contexts in Saudi Arabia.
Early childhood is ideal period for introducing STEM concepts and engaging children in developmentally appropriate activities to begin understanding the world around them. The Preschool Education Division of the Israeli Ministry of Education has initiated the Future Kindergarten model—encouraging educators and children to initiate, explore, and create their own diverse learning environments and resources. The model is conducive to developing knowledge, skills, and values tailored to the children’s needs, based on four anchors: Personal Expression; Community; Entrepreneurship and Productivity; Learning in Living Spaces. In accordance with this initiative we describe research-based evidence that shows that when educators allow children to play and collaborate independently in an educational environment richly equipped with construction materials, the children improve their Engineering Habits of Mind (EHoM) and their design products. Preschoolers (N =228, 5–6 years of age), from six mainstream classrooms, took part in this study. The intervention group (N =126) experienced 6 month of free-choice construction experiences in the enriched learning environment with diverse materials. This group performed significantly better in EHoM practices and the quality of the design product in an open-ended, problem-solving construction task. These results demonstrate the ways in which well thought learning environments, enriched with open-ended materials can enhance preschoolers’ cognitive capabilities in a play-based manner.
Background Engineering play is an emerging framework for understanding young children's constructive block play as an engineering design process. Few studies have evaluated engineering thinking, language, or behavior in preschool-age children, especially quantitative evaluations that systematically document specific early engineering behavior. More research is needed to support diverse children's engineering education in ecologically valid classroom contexts and understand relations with the key cognitive domains that predict school readiness. Purpose/Hypothesis The present study investigated the associations of executive functioning and planning skills with preschoolers' engineering play behaviors with wooden unit blocks, tested the moderating role of disability status in these associations, and provided additional reliability and validity data on the Preschool Engineering Play Behaviors (P-EPB) measure. Design/Method Participants were 110 preschoolers (44% female; 25% children with disabilities) observed and coded during 15-min block play sessions with a peer partner. Children completed separate formal assessments of executive function and planning. Results A one-factor engineering play variable including six behavior categories (i.e., communicating goals, problem-solving, explaining how things are built/work, following patterns and prototypes, logical and mathematical words, and technical vocabulary) was significantly and positively associated with executive function and planning for children with disabilities. Conclusions Results provide new knowledge about early engineering measurement and implications for teaching and learning engineering across multiple academic disciplines and with children from diverse developmental backgrounds.
The informal learning field has just begun to document the issues and significance of design in outdoor learning environments. The inclusion of movable elements, otherwise known as “loose parts,” in outdoor exhibitions for young children increases engagement and expands the possibilities for creativity. The author reflects on two exhibitions, Tot Spot and Lookout Cove at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, California, and looks at how outdoor exhibit components with loose parts work in combination with thematic evocative environments to stimulate focused experimental inquiry and imaginative social play. Both exhibitions have been the subjects of studies looking at how setting design and affordances influence visitor behavior and understanding. These research studies are noteworthy in their ambitions, design and the degree to which they were successful in reaching their audience and stated goals.
This naturalistic observational study investigated the social behavior of 20 mixed‐sex, ‐race, and ‐SES kindergarten children as they played with unit (small, solid, hardwood blocks) and large hollow blocks. The findings indicated the following: (1) The children in this study engaged in group, parallel, and solitary play with both types of blocks but group play was more likely to occur with large hollow blocks while parallel and solitary play occurred more often with unit blocks. (2) Children spent more time playing with large hollow blocks. (3) No sex differences were found in the levels of social participation, social behavior, or the amount of time these children spent with the two types of blocks. (4) Many behaviors traditionally considered anti‐social were rarely or never observed. The results from this study suggest that both unit and large hollow block play may provide young children with many opportunities and experiences that encourage social development.
1826] 1887. The Education of Man
  • F Froebel
Froebel, F. [1826] 1887. The Education of Man. Trans. W.N. Hailmann. New York: Appleton.
Engineering Peer Play: A New Perspective on Science
  • Z S Gold
  • J Elicker
  • Forthcoming
Gold, Z.S., & J. Elicker. Forthcoming. "Engineering Peer Play: A New Perspective on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Early Childhood Education." In Peer Play and Development in Early Childhood: International Research Narratives, eds. A. Ridgeway, G. Quiñones, & L. Li. New York: Springer.
Nature-Inspired Design: A PictureSTEM Curriculum for Elementary STEM Learning
  • T J Moore
  • K M Tank
Moore, T.J., & K.M. Tank. 2014. "Nature-Inspired Design: A PictureSTEM Curriculum for Elementary STEM Learning." Conference proceedings. San Antonio, TX: Association for Science Teacher Educators.