Building STEM Capacity in Early Childhood Education

The fundamental processes of science learning—observing, exploring, building, sorting, and discovering the world around us—has the potential to lay a foundation for success in the K-12 years and beyond.

Funded by the A.D. Henderson Foundation
During 2015-2016 – 18 month project

Program: The goal of the project was to build the capacity of the Montshire Museum and our partners to provide high-quality early childhood education in science. 

The objectives of this capacity building project were to:

  1. Improve Pre-K teachers’ skills, understanding, and confidence in facilitating science inquiry and engineering practices, and to provide supported opportunities to practice these skills.
  2. Support Pre-K teachers with the professional development and instructional materials needed to meet the expectations for high-quality programming under Act 166, and will help align their curricula with the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) and the Next Generation Science Standards for science and engineering practices.
  3. Promote creativity, inventiveness, a sense of wonder, and a problem-solving mindset in Vermont children in Pre-K and Kindergarten programs.
  4. Expand Montshire’s School Partnership Initiative, and the outcomes it provides, from K-8 to Pre-K-8 in our partner schools.
  5. Develop a capacity building model for Pre-K programs in STEM learning that can be replicated throughout Vermont.

Our project design included the following strategies and activities:

Strategy 1: We developed and implemented a professional development program in science and engineering for participating Pre-K teachers (16 participants). Following best practices for teacher professional development, this program was a year-long sustained effort and include three workshops at the Montshire and in-school model teaching/curriculum coaching sessions.  In addition, the participating schools requested that we also provide training for their paraprofessionals.  An additional 15 preschool paras and assistants participated in a day long training.

Strategy 2: We provided participating teachers with quality STEM instructional materials, and supported their implementation through the professional development program described above. Montshire’s professional educators developed, piloted, and produce three STEM Investigation Kits emphasizing scientific inquiry and children’s engineering and problem solving.  Each kit included a series of integrated activities. Unit development and testing took place at the Museum as part our Books and Beyond program, Young Scientist program and at the Science Discovery reaching additional children and families.

Strategy 3: We created a partnership model that can be replicated in future years at the
Montshire, and by other institutions that are engaged in early childhood education and implementation of Act 166. Beyond the grant period, we expect that maintaining the program and using the materials to reach additional schools and centers will be relatively cost effective.  Enrollment at that stage would by necessity be on a fee-for-service basis.

Strategy 4: In recognition that the Montshire and its partners all bring strengths to the table, this project also built the Museum’s capacity for high-quality early childhood education. To this end, two Pre-K lead teachers from the Rivendell Interstate School District, Kathleen Foltz and Rob Reade, worked with the Museum staff as project consultants.

Units developed:
Light and Mirrors
Kitchen Chemistry

Partners include:

  • Rivendell Interstate School District: Pre-K programs at Samuel Morey Elementary School, Fairlee, VT and Westshire Elementary School, West Fairlee, VT – 3 classrooms
  • Caledonia Central Supervisory Union: CCSU’s Pre-K programs at Barnet School,
  • Danville School, Peacham Elementary School, and Walden School – 6 classrooms
  • The Childcare Center in Norwich, Norwich, VT – 1 classroom
  • Green Mountain Children’s Center, White River Junction, VT – 1 classroom
  • Maple Leaf Children’s Center, Thetford, VT – 2 classrooms