Evaluators and researchers studying science and engineering education with preschool and elementary children will be interested in a report the National Academies of Science released in early October 2021.

Science and Engineering in Preschool through Elementary Grades:  The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators reviews research about and provides guidance for effective approaches to science and engineering instruction in preschool through grade five that supports the success of all students. The report describes four approaches to equity and justice in STEM education, discusses successful instructional materials and professional learning experiences, addresses policies and procedures, and offers recommendations about key directions for policy, practice, and research to support elementary science and engineering learning.

Approaches to Equity

The report outlines four approaches to equity that guided the work of the report committee. The four approaches, quoted directly from the report release webinar materials, offer a useful set of guidelines for educators and researchers as we continue to examine how to address equity and justice in science instruction and outcomes.

  1. Increasing opportunity and access to high quality science and engineering learning and instruction
  2. Emphasizing increased achievement, representation, and identification with science and engineering
  3. Expanding what constitutes science and engineering
  4. Seeing science and engineering as part of justice movements

Report Recommendations

The report provides a comprehensive overview of how educators, policy makers, faculty, families, community members, and funders can support rigorous, effective, and equitable preschool and elementary science engineering instruction and research. Below we summarize the key recommendations that the committee listed in the report release webinar.

Prioritizing Science and Engineering in Preschool through Elementary Grades

The report offers four recommendations for school, district, and state policymakers to support coherence in science and engineering instruction from preschool though elementary grades, calling for sufficient time and resources for science and engineering instruction.

RECOMMENDATION 1: Establish state-level policies so that science and engineering is comprehensively, frequently, and consistently taught in all preschool through elementary settings and that all children participate in instruction. Children should not receive instruction or remediation in other subjects during science and engineering instructional periods.

RECOMMENDATION 2: Provide sufficient time and resources for science and engineering instruction for a comprehensive, frequent, and consistent focus on science and engineering; support coherence from preschool through elementary grades; and allocate sufficient resources for equitable science and engineering learning opportunities.

RECOMMENDATION 3: Evaluate the characteristics of classroom instruction, teacher qualifications, educator diversity, and professional learning opportunities to support and enhance teachers’ capacities for teaching science and engineering

RECOMMENDATION 4: Build connections across preschool and elementary school, and research alignment and coherence across preschool through elementary grades.

Supporting Children’s Learning, Engagement, and Proficiency in Science and Engineering

The five recommendations forsupporting children in learning science and engineering suggest that students should be actively engaged in meaningful and relevant experiences that support equity and justice and engage families and community members in out-of-school time learning.

RECOMMENDATION 5: Instruction should stem from interesting and relevant phenomena and design problems that engage children’s curiosity and offer opportunities for “decision-making, sensemaking, and problem solving.”

RECOMMENDATION 6: Science and engineering learning experiences should be conducted in a caring, collective culture; position children as active “thinkers and doers”, and support collaboration and collective thinking.

RECOMMENDATION 8: Educators should continue to develop expertise in working toward equity and justice in their science and engineering teaching.

RECOMMENDATION 9: Collaboration among educators, families, and local community leaders can increase opportunities for meaningful and relevant science and engineering learning experiences and help families better support their children’s learning.w

Curriculum and Content Integration

The report emphasizes the importance of carefully reviewing curriculum materials and providing sufficient professional learning and resources for teachers to ensure equitable and effective learning experiences for children in preschool through elementary grades.

RECOMMENDATION 10: Coherent and equitable preschool through elementary grade science and engineering curriculum materials, built in collaboration with curriculum developers, researchers, teachers, school or district leaders, families, and community leaders, should build toward the vision of the Framework for K12 Science Education, actively engage children in learning, provide educative supports for teachers, and show evidence of effectiveness.

RECOMMENDATION 11: Evidence-based review, selection, and implementation process should guide decisions about curricular programs, which should be grounded in investigation and design, coherent, flexible, adaptable, equitable, and build toward the vision of the Framework .

RECOMMENDATION 12: Teachers should have access to sustained professional learning opportunities and have adequate materials, equipment, and resources for children to engage in investigation and design.

RECOMMENDATION 13: Every school should have the curriculum materials and instructional resources needed for engaging in science and engineering teaching that works toward equity and justice.

Supporting Educators

Teacher education and professional learning experiences help enhance teachers’ skills to provide equitable, just, integrated, and effective science and engineering instruction. Attending to teacher needs, planning robust and effective learning experiences, and offering ongoing support are critical to ensuring that children have access to engaging and collaborative learning experiences that honor their frames of reference and cultural experiences.

RECOMMENDATION 14: Teacher education and professional learning should meet teacher needs, connect professional learning with classroom practice, emphasize the importance and value of teaching science and engineering, and help teachers understand how to meaningfully integrate science and engineering with other subjects. Learning should highlight authentic and equitable science and engineering content and disciplinary practice and support teachers’ effective use and adaptation of science and engineering curriculum materials

RECOMMENDATION 15: Sustained professional learning opportunities improve science and engineering teaching that works toward equity and justice and recognizing and valuing learners’ conceptual, linguistic, and cultural resources.

RECOMMENDATION 16: Science teacher education faculty should engage in professional learning opportunities to work toward equity and justice in teacher education.

RECOMMENDATION 17: Federal agencies should allocate funds for research and development to enhance teaching and learning of science and engineering within preschool through elementary classrooms, prioritizing efforts that diversify the teacher workforce, recognize unique character of preschool through elementary teachers and teaching, develop teachers as leaders, support research and development to make meaningful connections across content areas, and elevate the study of equitable curricular resources and professional learning that support equity and justice in preschool and elementary science and engineering instruction.

District and School Leadership

Educational leaders should build their knowledge of and capacity for providing instructional leadership for science and engineering instruction in their organization.

RECOMMENDATION 18: District leaders should provide professional learning opportunities for principals, center directors, and other school leaders to enhance leaders’ capacity for providing instructional leadership for science and engineering. These professional learning opportunities should focus on science and engineering practices and support leaders in seeing multiple ways science and engineering are valuable for children.

Watch the Report Release Webinar Recording and Read the Report

You can access the webinar recording and presentation slides on this site:  https://www.nationalacademies.org/event/10-07-2021/enhancing-science-and-engineering-in-prekindergarten-through-elementary-grades-report-release-webinar

The pre-publication version of the report is available on this site:  https://www.nap.edu/catalog/26215/science-and-engineering-in-preschool-through-elementary-grades-the-brilliance