STEM education, or Science-Technology-Engineering-Math, is an integrated curriculum based on scientific inquiry. While STEM has been around for decades, it has received much more focus and attention in the United States in recent years. This is largely because American students tend to trail behind their international peers in these fields. At HIS, our inquiry-based science program begins in preschool and integrates STEM activities as part of the Meritas Academic Plan, which focuses on developing critical thinking and high-order reasoning skills. Pre-k teacher Mrs. Fiumara shared this example of her students’ autumn planting project.
Our pre-k students were introduced to concepts involving seeds and plant growth earlier this year. Our students planted their seeds in soil in a clear container so that they can see that important plant activity happens beneath the soil surface. This biology lesson is the “Science” part of the STEM activity. During the “Technology” piece, they used their iPads to take photos and record the activity. The “Engineering” lesson included watering the seeds with eyedroppers, then watching the landscaper as he planned the irrigation system in the garden. The “Math” lesson involved using rulers to measure the growth of the plants.
Students assess what they learn by answering questions throughout the process. This is when our Meritas Academic Plan, which places heavy emphasis on critical thinking, takes the basics of STEM a step further through the use of essential questions.
In traditional STEM learning, students answer questions like “do some plants have longer roots than others?” Rather than ask “do some plants have longer roots,” our students are asked “why do you think some plants have longer roots than others?” This takes the question beyond a simple “yes” or “no” answer and compels the student to think about why science works the way it does. It goes beyond simple scientific facts and introduces the students to scientific analysis and application.
Mrs. Fiumara’s class transplanted their crops from their pots to the garden this week. She said so far, they have learned that seeds need soil, water, and sun to grow. They have learned about the functions of roots and why plants grow at different rates just like people do. The students have also observed the plants “leaning” towards the classroom windows to soak up more sunlight.
In the coming months, Mrs. Fiumara’s students will observe the growth of the plants in the garden, see how they respond to colder weather, and hopefully have a nice crop to harvest when the weather warms up next year.