Science and Engineering
in Preschool Through
THE BRILLIANCE OF CHILDREN AND
THE STRENGTHS OF EDUCATORS
Committee on Enhancing Science and Engineering in
Prekindergarten Through Fifth Grades
Board on Science Education
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
A Consensus Study Report of
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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This activity was supported by contracts between the National Academy of Sciences and Carnegie Corporation of New York (G-19-57002) and Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund (a1n5A0000025i9MQAQ). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-68417-0
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-68417-X
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/26215
Library of Congress Control Number: 2022932768
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Copyright 2022 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2022). Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26215.
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COMMITTEE ON ENHANCING SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING IN PREKINDERGARTEN THROUGH FIFTH GRADES
Elizabeth A. Davis (Chair), University of Michigan
Heidi Carlone, Vanderbilt University
Jeanane Charara, SOLID Start, Michigan State University
Douglas Clements, University of Denver
Katie Mcmillan Culp, New York Hall of Science, New York, NY
Ximena Domînguez, Digital Promise, Washington, DC
Daryl Greenfield, University of Miami
Megan Hopkins, University of California, San Diego
Eve Manz, Boston University
Tiffany Neill, Oklahoma State Board of Education
K. Renae Pullen, Caddo Parish Public Schools, Shreveport, LA
William Sandoval, University of California, Los Angeles
Enrique Suárez, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Carrie Tzou, University of Washington
Peter Winzer (NAE), Nubis Communications, Holmdel, NJ
Carla Zembal-Saul, Pennsylvania State University
Amy Stephens, Study Director, Board on Science Education
Tiffany Taylor, Program Officer, Board on Science Education
Margaret Kelly, Senior Program Assistant, Board on Science Education
Heidi Schweingruber, Director, Board on Science Education
BOARD ON SCIENCE EDUCATION
Susan Rundell Singer (Chair), Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost, Rollins College
Sue Allen, Senior Research Scientist, Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance
Megan Bang, Learning Sciences, Northwestern University, Senior Vice President, Spencer Foundation
Vicki L. Chandler, Dean of Faculty, Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute
Sunita V. Cooke, Superintendent/President, MiraCosta College
Maya Garcia, Science Content Specialist, Colorado Department of Education
Rush Holt, former Chief Executive Officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Tonya Matthews, Chief Executive Officer, International African American Museum, Charleston, SC
William Penuel, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder
Stephen L. Pruitt, President, Southern Regional Education Board
K. Renae Pullen, K-5 Science Curriculum-Instructional Specialist, Caddo Parish Schools, LA
K. Ann Renninger, Social Theory and Social Action, Swarthmore College
Marcy H. Towns, Department of Chemistry, Purdue University
Darryl N. Williams, Senior Vice President, Science and Education, The Franklin Institute
Heidi Schweingruber, Director
Every child deserves to experience the wonder of science and the satisfaction of engineering. Children, even at very young ages, are deeply curious about the world around them and eager to investigate the many questions they have about their environment. Engaging them in learning science and engineering takes advantage of this interest and helps them to answer their own authentic questions and solve real-world problems that are important to them. Doing so helps children develop into people who can be informed decision makers about issues that will matter to them as adults—issues related to their health or the environment, for example, and that deeply affect them and their communities.
From the start, this committee was dedicated to two key principles: first, the importance of recognizing and building on the assets of children, families, communities, and educators, and second, the imperative of working toward equity and justice in society through science and engineering in the early years.
Even very young children—from infancy, and certainly from around age 3, when this report’s scope begins—can make sense of their world in sophisticated ways. From preschool through fifth grade, the older end of the report’s scope, children are connecting ideas, building concepts, and engaging in meaningful science and engineering practices. Their proficiencies, as this report shows, are amazing. Such proficiencies are nurtured when educators design opportunities to learn that meet children’s needs; when educators engage responsively with children’s ideas and interests; and when they can hear children’s ideas and see their successes. This report aims to
support educators in this work by reviewing and elaborating on what the literature says about how to support children’s engagement and growth.
Yet, at the same time as we are recognizing children’s strengths, we must also recognize our country’s struggles. Although a group of academics and educators who support and study how young children make sense of and engage in science and engineering is unlikely to end systemic injustice, such a group can use their expertise to try to work toward justice, locally and societally. This report takes seriously the charge of considering who the children are who have been historically marginalized from engaging in science and engineering—through assumptions about their cultural backgrounds, their prior knowledge or experiences, their linguistic resources, their gender, or any other dimension of potential oppression—and exploring what the literature says about how these children can and do engage in meaningful science and engineering, when supported. This report, then, also aims to help educators recognize and foster the brilliance of every child.
The educational system is often set up to work against children developing and demonstrating proficiencies in science and engineering. Teachers may feel underprepared for the work of teaching these subject areas. They may lack curriculum materials or other resources to support them in doing so. School leaders may not know what to look for in children’s science and engineering and may not recognize the value of the seeming chaos that can precede children’s insights. Community organizations may lack connections to schools, leading to further incoherence in the system. Children themselves may start to lose enthusiasm for sensemaking about the natural and designed worlds if they are not supported. All of this can be discouraging. Yet, all of it is rectifiable, and this report shows many examples of ways in which the system and its elements are functioning. This report aims to give guidance for improving each element of the system to help enhance the teaching and learning of science and engineering with children.
The committee did remarkable work in preparing this report. The committee’s first introductory call took place on March 27, 2020—2 weeks after schools across the country closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every meeting of the committee was conducted virtually, via Zoom. The committee developed ways of collaborating and communicating across time zones and distance as well as across expertise and academic emphasis. We laughed that we had all of the work of serving on a committee like this without any of the perks of being together in community. Furthermore, across the families of the committee and the National Academies staff, there are roughly 20 kids in school or college. Those with young children were navigating supporting them in virtual school and scrambling for childcare, and those with older kids were nervously moving them into college dorm rooms and hoping they would be able to stay for a whole semester and would stay healthy. Unexpected new duties and suboptimal working condi-
tions brought on by the pandemic further exacerbated the challenges. There were COVID scares and worse. Yet, the committee members and staff, to a one, dove in wholeheartedly to this work. I feel enormous gratitude to these individuals for the work they have done in helping to enhance science and engineering for children. I would be remiss if I did not also express my gratitude to these folks’ families writ large (including partners and kids but also parents, in-laws, siblings, friends, and other support systems) for the material and emotional support that they provided during the extraordinary year of this committee’s work.
This report, we hope, will support the next generation of young learners in being able to experience the wonder of science and the satisfaction of engineering and, in so doing, will work toward justice.
Elizabeth A. Davis, Chair
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This report would not have been possible without the many individuals who provided their expertise, including those who served on the committee as well as those who participated in discussions with the committee. We recognize their invaluable contributions to our work. The first thanks are to the committee members, for their passion, deep knowledge, and contributions to the study.
This report was made possible by the important contributions of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund; in particular Jim Short (program director, Learning and Teaching to Advance Learning) at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Steven Azeka (program officer, Computational Thinking), and Amber Oliver (managing director) at the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund.
Members of the committee benefited from discussion and presentation by many individuals who participated in our fact-finding meetings.
- At the first meeting, we had the opportunity to talk with our study sponsors, Jim Short (Carnegie Corporation of New York) and Steven Azeka (Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund), to get further clarity on the statement of task. The committee also explored the following topics:
- Elementary Science Education: A Look at the Numbers. P. Sean Smith (Horizon Research Inc.) provided an overview of the state of elementary science education.
- Revisiting the Report Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. The committee engaged in conversations with committee members Brett Moulding (Utah Partnership for Effective Science Teaching and Learning), Nancy Songer (University of Utah), Erin Furtak (University of Colorado Boulder), and study director Kerry Brenner (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) about the report findings and recommendations and implications for prekindergarten and elementary school.
- Computational Thinking in Prekindergarten Through Fifth Grades: Defining Computational Thinking, State of the Evidence, and Promising Practices. Presenters included Karen Brennan (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Maya Israel (University of Florida), Hilah Barbot (formerly at KIPP Foundation), and Aankit Patel (City University of New York).
- At the second meeting, the committee held a public comment and discussion with committee session to hear input from the elementary science and engineering education community and to answer questions. The committee also held three panel discussions and the following topics were explored:
- Equity, Justice, and Antiracism in Elementary Science and Engineering. Panel members included Felicia Moore Mensah (Teachers College, Columbia University), Christopher Wright (Drexel University), and Ananda Marin (University of California, Los Angeles).
- Integrating Science and Literacy in Elementary Education. Panel members included Nell K. Duke (University of Michigan), Amelia Gotwals (Michigan State University), Okhee Lee (NYU Steinhardt), and Tanya S. Wright (Michigan State University).
- Moderated Discussion of District Policies and Leadership in Elementary Schools. Participants included Vanessa Lujan (University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Hall of Science), Donald J. Peurach (University of Michigan), and Andrea Kane (Queen Anne’s County Public Schools, Maryland).
- As part of the third meeting, the committee heard from three panels across the 2 days:
- Panel 1: Examining Science and Engineering in Preschools. Panelists included Andres Bustamante (University of California, Irvine), Alissa Lange (East Tennessee State University),
- Jessica Whittaker (University of Virginia), and Karen Worth (Education Development Center, Inc.).
- Panel 2: Integrating Science with other Content Areas. Panelists included Monica E. Cardella (Purdue University) discussing links to engineering education; Miranda Fitzgerald (University of North Carolina at Charlotte) discussing integration of literacy, science, and engineering; Diane Jass Ketelhut and Lautaro Cabrera (University of Maryland, College Park) describing computational thinking; and Anne Leftwich (Indiana University Bloomington) and Tamara Moore (Purdue University) discussing integration of computational thinking and computer science.
- Panel 3: Moderated Discussion with Science Specialists. Par- ticipants included Renee Belisle (Denver Public Schools), Amanda Buice (Georgia Department of Education), Amy L. Reese (Howard County Public School System, Maryland), and Claudia Walker (Murphey Traditional Academy, Greensboro, North Carolina).
The committee is very grateful for additional discussions with experts on antiracist pedagogies, including Angela Calabrese Barton (University of Michigan), Natalie Davis (Georgia State University), Tia Madkins (University of Texas at Austin), Daniel Morales-Doyle (University of Illinois Chicago), and Sepehr Vakil (Northwestern University). In addition, the committee is grateful to Jennifer Frey (Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine), who consulted with us on issues of learning differences and learning disabilities.
This Consensus Study Report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Andres S. Bustamante, School of Education, University of California Irvine; Pauline W.U. Chinn, Curriculum Studies, College of Education, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa; Maya M. Garcia, Office of Standards and Instructional Support, Colorado Department of Education; Amelia Wenk Gotwals, Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University; Jacqueline Jones, Office of President and CEO, Foundation for Child De-
velopment; Okhee Lee, Department of Teaching and Learning, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University; Ananda M. Marin, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles; Felicia Moore Mensah, Science Education, Teachers College, Columbia University; Helen R. Quinn, Particle Physics and Astrophysics, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Brian J. Reiser, Learning Sciences, Northwestern University; Maria Varelas, Science Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois Chicago; Mark Windschitl, Science Education, University of Washington; and Christopher G. Wright, Department of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum, Drexel University.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Melanie M. Cooper, Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University, and Greg J. Duncan, School of Education, University of California, Irvine. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
Thanks are also due to the project staff. Amy Stephens, senior program officer for the Board on Science Education (BOSE), directed the study and played a key role in the development of the report and ushering it through review. Tiffany Taylor, program officer for BOSE, provided critical assistance throughout the project. Margaret Kelly, senior program assistant with BOSE, managed the study’s logistical and administrative needs. Heidi Schweingruber, director of BOSE, provided thoughtful advice and many helpful suggestions throughout the entire study.
Staff of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education also provided help: Laura Yoder substantially improved the readability of the report; Kirsten Sampson Snyder expertly guided the report through the report review process; and Yvonne Wise masterfully guided the report through production. The committee also wishes to express their sincere appreciation to Rebecca Morgan in the National Academies Research Center for her assistance with helping to identify potential committee members and conducting literature searches.
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