EC STEM Lab - December 2020, Newsletter, #17

Spotlight on an Expert

Christine Cunningham


Early Childhood Engineering

Christine M. Cunningham is a Professor of Practice in Education and Engineering at Penn State University. Her work focuses on making preK-8 engineering and science more equitable especially for underserved and marginalized populations through curriculum development, professional learning, and research.

Read an article by Cunningham and colleagues:

"A focus on function: An early childhood engineering activity helps students think about the way things work"

See more from Christine below in Try it Out!


Check it Out


Preschool STEM Workshop Series - Virtual

Saturday, Nov. 21st, 9-10am

We continue our free workshop series for educators on Saturday, Nov. 21st, 9-10am. Approved for professional development hours in TN by DHS.

Topic: Preschool engineering and the wind, including virtual learning considerations, and learning at home.

Registration required.

Check back in on our website or follow us on Facebook for updates about the rest of the series.

Early Math Interest Forum - Meeting

Tuesday, Nov. 10th, 7:30pm

Free meeting with the facilitators of NAEYC's Early Math Interest Forum. Register to join us to discuss supporting early math learning during the pandemic.

NAEYC Annual Conference - Registration Deadline

Sunday, Nov. 7th, 7:00pm

Last chance to register for the annual virtual national early childhood conference Nov 8-10. Click here to check out the program.



Learn More

What is Preschool Engineering?

Design, Create, Try, Change, Try Again!

Preschool children can think about a real problem, create a solution, try it out, revise, and try again.

They may or may not go through each phase of the engineering design cycle, in the same order. Regardless, figuring out and making something that solves a problem or meets a need can be super engaging and empowering for many children.

Attend our free 1-hour workshop to explore this further.

Learn More



Activity Ideas

Try It Out!

Make a Shaker

As children make a shaker that makes noise, they think about materials and their properties. Below are some tips about how you might do this activity and questions you might ask.

Set up

  • A small container with a lid that can be fastened securely such as a food container or a box with a lid and a rubber band to secure it shut.
  • Small objects that are hard and soft such as paper clips, pom poms, felt pieces, macaroni, plastic pieces like Legos etc. that can be put inside the shaker.

  • Have children feel and describe each type of object. Is it fuzzy, soft, shiny, hard etc.?
  • Help the children to categorize the objects.
  • Ask: Can they find all the hard objects? All the fuzzy objects?
Making a Shaker - Part I
  • Invite the children to make a shaker that will make noise.
  • Show them how to make a shaker by putting objects made of one type of material (for example, paper clips) into the container, closing the container, and shaking it.
  • As the children to describe the sound the shaker makes.
  • Ask: Is it loud? is it soft?
  • Ask: Why the shaker makes that kind of sound.

Making a Shaker - Part II

Encourage the children to make a shaker filled with objects from another type of material (for example, pom poms). 
  • Describe the sound.
  • Possible questions to ask
    • How does the noise compare to the other shaker?
  • Allow the children to explore making different kinds of shakers.
  • Encourage them to mix available materials together inside a shaker.
    • Ask: What else they would like to try in their shaker.
  • Help children connect the materials they are using, their properties, and the sounds they hear.
    • Ask: Which types of materials work best for making loud sounds?
    • Ask: Which types of materials work best for making soft sounds?
Continue the Experience

Consider extending learning over another day. Encourage children to look at the world around them and describe objects and their properties. Help them connect the materials and properties to what the objects are designed to do.

Scavenger Hunt
  • Can children find an object that is [fuzzy, soft, shiny, hard, waterproof, bendable, wood, plastic, metal etc]?
  • Possible questions to ask
    • What does the object do?
    • Why did is it made of that material?
  • As you use materials during everyday activities, describe their properties using a rich array of words.

Books for Kids

Early engineering books for kids.

The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires
A girl tries to invite a magnificent thing, and works on overcoming frustration when it doesn't work out like she planned.

Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beatty

Follow the story of Rosie Revere as she engineers.

Violet the Pilot, by Steve Breen

Follow Violet as she pursues her passion in engineering in aviation, while coping with the social and emotional challenges of other children being mean to her because she's different, and how she responds.

More early engineering books:

On the Web

  • What is Engineering? Resources, videos, and handouts about engineering (and more STEM!) from Sesame Street.
  • Engineering with Ramps and Pathways. Article from collaborators at The Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education, discussing values of exploring engineering with ramps and pathways for young children.

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