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Non-linear investigations, the wonder of bees and how to structure a STEM project

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The biennial Little Scientists Early STEM Award celebrates early childhood services’ achievements in the areas of inquiry-based learning and child-led STEM exploration.

In our final article about the 2020 award winners, we share a project focused around the wonder of bees, and one that grew from queries about a dumpling steamer into an exploration of Goldilocks planets. We also provide some tips on how to structure a STEM project.

The wonder of bees – SA winner Nido Early School

South Australia’s winning project was Nido Early School’s investigation of bees in their playground’s crepe myrtle tree.

At the beginning of the project, the children had limited knowledge about bees, other than an understanding that they produce honey and have a “stinger”. As the children returned daily to the tree, they began to wonder how bees actually make honey.

Shannon Osborne is the educational leader and Emilia Borrelli is a teacher at Nido Early School. They explain, “educators critically reflected on the learning opportunities that could occur and decided to continue with the exploration of bees but in a way that promoted how they help our environment and contribute to food sources.

“This improved learning outcomes for children as they develop an awareness of the importance bees play in the environment and the processes involved to produce honey.”

Families became involved in the project at home and children visited their grandparent’s beehives. The families provided samples of honey and honeycomb and a beekeeper suit for the children to use in their research.

Through the project, the children gained high levels of scientific understanding about bees and their contribution to the environment. The project also helped the children develop a respect for nature.

Read more about this project.

Earth is a Goldilocks planet (non-linear learning) – TAS winner Baghdad Education and Care

The state winner for Tasmania was Baghdad Education and Care. Their project was an excellent example of non-linear learning. It started with children discussing temperatures in relation to a bamboo steamer that was used during Chinese New Year celebrations. They then talked about the temperature of their environment, which led to the children asking what temperature it is on the moon.

The highlight was when the children (and educators) discovered there is a scientific term called a “Goldilocks planet”. This is a planet that supports life because it is not too hot and not too cold, it is just right.

According to the judging team, a stand out element of this entry was how the educators embraced the non-linear nature of the investigation. When asked what they would do differently next time, manager and early childhood teacher Tammy Bennett explained that they wouldn’t change a thing.

“How can you have regrets if it’s not highly structured and planned? If it’s actually led by children, then it goes where it goes.”

She says that educators shouldn’t be afraid of not knowing the answers to children’s questions that arise during an unplanned project, because educators can inquire with the children.

“The children have asked ‘I wonder how many eggs a beetle lays’ or ‘I wonder how they have babies’. So we pulled out the laptop. We don’t know the answer to everything, so let’s look it up together.

“But you do need the provocations in the environment to have those questions come about, you know, like a bamboo steamer in the Chinese New Year corner.”

Read more about this project.

How to structure a STEM project

Are you considering launching a STEM project at your own service?

  • Start by observing the children and identify a topic they are curious about.
  • Use different methods of exploration to find the answers to their questions.
  • Let the children take the project in new directions, even if the themes rapidly evolve.

Educators can look for learning opportunities that are relevant to STEM. Educators who crave structure may feel more comfortable if they plan projects around the different learning domains.

These examples were used in Nido Early School’s bee project:

Science

The children observed, experimented and investigated when they searched for pollen in the flowers.

Technology

The children used technological tools, like cameras and digital microscopes, to effectively observe objects relating to bees.

Engineering

Problem-solving skills were used when the children created perfume from flowers and used pipe cleaners to model a bee.

Mathematics

The children identified a bee’s body parts (e.g. stripes, eyes, antennas) and counted its legs.


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