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Dialogue On Early Childhood Science, Mathematics, And Technology Education

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About Book

Dorothy McCormick, Director, The Country Day School, McLean, Virginia
This is a very important book on very important subjects presented by very important people for the benefit of our most important students, America's preschool children. I find it to be a real treasure

Book Description
This book is a collection of 15 papers that explore if, when, and how science, mathematics, and technology should be taught to preschool children. The papers were commissioned by AAAS for the February 1998 Forum on Early Childhood Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education in Washington, D.C., where, at the request of the National Science Foundation, 100 of the nation's most accomplished educators, scholars and researchers gathered to exchange ideas. Dialogue on Early Childhood Science, Mathematics, and Technology is the product of that meeting. It represents the latest thinking and research on early childhood science, mathematics, and technology education.

Excerpted from Dialogue on Early Childhood Science, Mathematics and Technology Education by . Copyright © 1999. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved
From the paper Making Sense of the World by Shirley Malcom, AAAS If people are shaped by their experiences-and I believe they are-then all of my experiences as a scientist and as a parent have convinced me that science, mathematics, and technology matter for young children because they matter to young children. As children set the table, match their socks, or reach for their jackets, boots, and mittens on a snowy day; as they learn to cook or play with bath toys, they amass experiences that set them up for the punch line. And the punch line is this: We live in a world that is governed by rules, where some outcomes are predictable, where knowledge can be uncovered, where questions can be asked and answered.

My own children taught me early on that they sought-and would create if necessary-explanations of their world and its workings. They took no part of the material world for granted. What makes it snow? What are clouds made of? My daughter Kelly's fear of thunder led her to a moment of scientific theorizing when she was four years old. As we were racing home during a storm, she announced from the back seat that she knew why the "clouds bumped into each other and make that thunder." "Why is that?" I asked. "Because they don't have any eyes," Kelly replied. Child development research tells us that children do, in fact, attribute the characteristics of animate objects to natural phenomena. But what was most fascinating to me was that she found it necessary to articulate a hypothesis. Later experiences would help her refine and develop her theories about thunder, storms, and clouds, but for now she had asked a question that was important to her and had formulated an explanation that would help her make sense of the world. Around the time my children began to confront me with their questions and hypotheses, I was asked to make a presentation on science, mathematics, and technology at a meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. To prepare, I began to explore the formal knowledge about child development and the early childhood years in particular. At the same time, I reflected on what I had learned from watching my own and other young children frame their questions about the world and develop their hypotheses. It became clear to me that by their very nature, science and mathematics could offer young children powerful ways of knowing about the world. And that indeed, children's experiences in their very early years could prepare them for the formal study of science, mathematics, and technology later on. These conclusions led me inevitably to my present role as advocate. My message is this: We need to provide all children with much greater access to the richest variety of experiences that will help them make sense of their world. We must have unbounded expectations for every child. Some may fear that I am suggesting we impose a rigid, formal curriculum on young children. That is not at all what I have in mind. Instead, we must take advantage of children's everyday experiences, supplementing them with other experiences that are consistent with what we know about how children develop and what we know about each individual child. The value of such an approach was best described by David Hawkins in a Daedalus article published some years ago: "The kind of experiential background in children's lives before schooling begins or along the way is more uniformly adequate to math and science than to most other school subjects. The poverty or richness of social background matter less here in the early years than in other school subjects. Math and science should therefore be the great equalizers, whether they are now seen to be or not." Unfortunately, mathematics and science are often the great separators rather than equalizers. They are the gatekeeper subjects. Without advanced courses in science and mathematics, students are excluded from educational opportunities and experiences that can affect their career aspirations, their role in society, and even their sense of personal fulfillment. With this much at stake, how do we make sure that all young children have the important experiences that will provide them with a strong foundation for future learning? At the very least, it will require much more cooperation among three distinct communities that are just beginning to take account of each other. For those in the K-16 education community, thinking about science, mathematics, and technology in a preschool context is relatively new. Similarly, the early childhood education community is just beginning to consider what content-rich programs would be like at the preschool level. And for those who work in the area of educational equity, there is now a growing awareness that access to thoughtful, engaging experiences in science, mathematics, and technology during the early childhood years can provide both short- and long-term benefits to all children. Connecting these three communities and finding out where their interests intersect are essential first steps. In the area of informal education-television, museums, science centers, and the like-some programs and initiatives have already begun to make these connections. Museum programs aimed at young children have dealt with a variety of science, mathematics, and technology concepts: hot and cold, big and small, sink and float, machines, numbers, senses, shapes, and so on. Unfortunately, many children have not had an opportunity to take part in these kinds of programs. Much more needs to be done to make such programs accessible to all families. Television-with its almost universal accessibility-along with toys, games, computer software, films, and books have also had some success in exposing young children to science and mathematics. These few examples serve only to suggest the range of activities, materials, and media that can contribute to a child's exploration and understanding of the world.



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