Enhancing Early Childhood Educators' Knowledge of Computer Science and Engineering Concepts to Spark Young Children's Early Interest in STEM Careers
High-quality experiences with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the pre-kindergarten years pave the way for learning about computer science and engineering in K-12 classrooms. Early, high-quality STEM learning experiences are also an essential way to attract more students to STEM course work and STEM careers. Currently however, the number of high-quality STEM education resources and materials available to preschool educators is limited. This 3-year project addresses this gap in teachers’ capacity to support young children’s STEM content knowledge by developing (1) a play-based computer science and pre-engineering education program for pre-K children, (2) a web-based, early childhood teacher workforce development program, and (3) accompanying child and early childhood educator assessments. In designing these elements, the project will follow four principles of early learning: (1) technology-mediated learning and pre-engineering is a natural and critical part of children’s early learning; (2) children’s curiosity about the world around them abounds and their engagement with technology is a powerful catalyst for children’s play; (3) with appropriate guidance and equity in access, children’s natural curiosity becomes the foundation for beginning to use technology-mediated inquiry skills and early problem-solving to explore the surrounding world; and (4) early exploration can be a rich context in which children use and develop important early computer science and pre-engineering skills, including programming, working as a team, communication using “pre-engineering” vocabulary, applied mathematics, and design thinking. Project partners include the University of Southern California’s STEM faculty and four Los Angeles community colleges, all of which are Hispanic-Serving Institutions. A set of Los Angeles-area preschools that serve linguistically and culturally diverse communities will serve as research sites. A total of 30 early childhood education teachers with their 600+ children will participate in the implementation research; matched numbers of children will be recruited for the control condition (1200 children total).
The project’s research questions include: (1) In what ways does the project’s infusing of play-based early computer science and pre-engineering into child development programs impact young children’s early computer science and pre-engineering knowledge, and their knowledge of and early interest in STEM careers? (2) What is the relationship between the project’s teacher professional development model and participating teachers’ content knowledge of early computer science and pre-engineering and instructional performance? and (3) What impact does the teachers’ cyber-safety focused professional development have on the cyber-safe practices of participating preschool teachers and their young students? The project will use a modular, web-based, teacher professional development program that allows preschool educators and university STEM faculty to co-create materials and engage in teacher professional development together. In years two and three, the project will test the development, feasibility, and fidelity of its approach using a randomized controlled trial (RCT). The RCT will be scaled annually, beginning with two pilot test sites, and continuing with testing across six large sites by the project's final year. Data to be collected include observation of classroom teaching and children’s behaviors, teacher interviews, teacher focus groups, and parent and teacher surveys. During the 2-year RCT, multivariate analyses will be used to examine whether teachers and children in the intervention group have significantly higher post-test scores than their peers in the control group. The team will regress the post-test scores on a set of control variables (race, gender, socioeconomic status), pre/baseline-test scores, and a variable representing intervention versus control to further examine whether teachers and children in the intervention group have significantly higher post-test scores than teachers and children in the control group. Cross group comparisons will be made. At the end of the project, multilevel hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) will be employed comparing teachers and children in Year 3 of the RCT. The project aims to produce a fully tested set of bilingual, bicultural products for national dissemination. Products would include a fully exportable, web-based, modular early childhood educator STEM workforce training and professional development model which focuses on “junior computer science and pre-engineering” through play. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.