Thursday, April 6, 2017

STEM in the Age of Screen Time

A few years ago, the idea of promoting STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics - became a very hot idea in education, as the United States faced flagging achievement in these fields. Take a look on Pinterest and you'll find countless ideas for young children involving straws, popsicle sticks, marshmallows, shaving cream, and an endless iteration of vinegar and baking soda "experiments." STEM apps abound so that a child can access those concepts with the swipe of a finger. With that in mind, I would like to present the location for our very own STEM laboratory at Tree of Life Montessori:

Welcome to the future site of our very own school garden.

Growing things is nothing new to preschools, and even in our limited growing space in the backyard, we have grown and eaten snap peas, strawberries, green beans, and lots of flowers. But the front yard, formerly weedy and unkempt, has been calling, and as we get closer to having the space ready for planting, I have been reflecting on the idea of STEM and why the school garden is really the ultimate STEM lab.

There really is no more enticing experiment than putting something tiny in the ground and watching it grow into an enormous plant, much less one that bears delicious and beautiful fruit. There are countless opportunities for engineering - how to build a trellis tall enough for the peas, how to construct pathways that will allow a wheelbarrow to pass through, learning to tie tomato plants to cages in the hopes that its heavy fruit won't pull it back down.

Why did the peppers in full-day sun get bigger and produce more fruit than the ones that are shaded in the afternoon? What happened when we forgot to water on a hot day? What happens to the zucchini we left on the vine too long - will the seeds that developed inside grow?

As for mathematics, we have to look at the seed packets, learn how deep to plant the seeds, how far apart they should be planted, how many rows can fit in our large bed or the small one. How tall will this green bean plant get, will it shade out the carrots?

In a garden we experience over and over the use of hypothesis about why something happened. Why did this plant wilt? Let's examine the roots. Are they rotten? Is there an insect eating them? Is it moldy? What could we do next time to help it grow bigger?

There are countless questions and answers hiding amongst the leaves of a vegetable garden. They may not be explicitly spelled out, but like all of the activities we offer in a Montessori classroom, they are experienced at a sensorial level, and become almost inborn knowledge. And there is no result more satisfying than a beautiful flower to offer to a friend, or something tasty to try.

So put down the science app and the toothpick-and-marshmallow construction projects, and let's get our hands dirty!

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