Bridging Preschool and Kindergarten Science: Exploring Play-based Engagement with Scientific and Engineering Practices in Early Learning Environments (Collaborative Research: Whitt)

This project aims to deepen understanding of how to support and develop early childhood science learning by articulating science and engineering practices observed in children’s play. It also aims to develop early childhood educators’ abilities to identify and support nascent science and engineering practices with young children. Through this project early childhood educators will engage in professional learning using a refined version of the Science and Engineering Practices Observation Protocol (SciEPOP), an observation tool that allows researchers to identify and describe high-quality play-based engagement with science and engineering practices. Through video-rich professional learning along with peer-based coaching, early childhood educators will grow in their ability to prepare play environments, identify nascent science and engineering practices, enhance and extend investigations through play, and record and reflect upon this learning.

Full Description

This project will investigate how and to what extent preschoolers and kindergarteners can engage in science and engineering practices in play-based learning environments. Young children are natural scientists, curious about the world around them, eager to pose questions, and ready to investigate their surroundings. They make sense of the world primarily through play, as has been recognized internationally as a fundamental component of child development. Science learning experiences for young children can reflect these facts about children. Rather than relying on adults to direct structured activity around a particular table or “station” in a classroom, children can interact freely with their environment both indoors and outdoors to have rich experiences that build on children’s creative and intuitive ways of engaging with science through play. The project will also explore how spaces, materials, and pedagogies can support and extend children’s engagement with science and engineering practices. Early childhood educators will engage in professional learning using a refined version of the Science and Engineering Practices Observation Protocol (SciEPOP), an observation tool that allows researchers to identify and describe high-quality play-based engagement with science and engineering practices. Through video-rich professional learning along with peer-based coaching, early childhood educators will grow in their ability to prepare play environments, identify nascent science and engineering practices, enhance and extend investigations through play, and record and reflect upon this learning.

This project aims to deepen understanding of how to support and develop early childhood science learning by articulating science and engineering practices observed in children’s play. It also aims to develop early childhood educators’ abilities to identify and support nascent science and engineering practices with young children. Researchers will use a multi-method, design-based research approach to investigate the following research questions: (1) What are the key design elements of the SciEPOP tool and the surrounding professional learning experiences needed to support student engagement with science and engineering practices? (2) How does the use of the SciEPOP tool during professional learning progressively enhance teachers’ abilities to support children’s engagement with SEP in play? (3) How does the proposed teacher professional learning intervention impact classroom-level patterns of children’s engagement with science and engineering practices during play? (4) How does the proposed teacher professional learning intervention impact site and classroom-level knowledge and attitudes about SEP during play? These investigations will take place across more than 12 collaborating preschool and kindergarten classrooms from three demographically distinct areas. Key deliverables include a series of professional learning modules designed to support teachers in noticing, enhancing, and extending engagement with the science and engineering practices through play, a refined version of the SciEPOP tool for use by educators in growing their own practice, and a series of papers and publications written for both practitioner and researcher communities.

PROJECT KEYWORDS

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