Science and Engineering in Preschool through Elementary Grades

Science and Engineering in Preschool through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators (2021) examines the research and challenges on effective approaches to early science and engineering instruction. The report also lays out ways to overcome those challenges especially in light of a historic conversation about race and equity in the United States and a global pandemic.


Children are curious. Whether wondering where the water goes when it rains or asking how a toy car works, their questions and enthusiasm can set the stage for learning almost from infancy. Ths curiousity has sparked a major rethinking of how and when children are introduced to science and engineering in school.

Every child has the right to experience the wonders of the natural and designed worlds. Children bring joy to their explorations and they deserve to have that joy nurtured.

Educators now realize that the years from preschool through the elementary grades offer the opportunity for children to be better prepared for these subjects in middle school and high school, giving them access to possible careers in science and engineering

Helping children to understand science and to solve real-world engineering and design problems will support them in being informed decision-makers about issues that matter in their lives and allow them to experience the wonders of the natural and designed worlds.


All children have a right to engage in science and engineering learning opportunities. However, systemic racial inequities and injustices have shaped the access and quality of these experiences. Attending to equity and working towards justice are steps towards ensuring that all children are provided with equitable opportunities to learn science and engineering.

The four approaches to equity reflect a spectrum of ways that educators and leaders at local, state, and district levels can work toward equity and justice in preschool and elementary science and engineering by adopting one or more of these approaches.

Four Approaches to Equity and Justice



Increasing opportunity and access to high quality science and engineering learning and instruction


Emphasizing increased achievement, representation and identification with science and enginee


Expanding what constitutes science and engineering


Seeing science and engineering as part of justice movements


In the U.S. today, children in elementary classrooms receive instruction in science for an average of only about 20 minutes a day and for only a few days a week; even less time is spent on engineering instruction.

Schools that serve mostly Black, Brown, and Indigenous children generally offer less science and engineering instruction than schools that serve mostly white children

Children who are receiving academic supports, such as for English-language development, have often been pulled out of science and engineering learning experiences, further limiting their opportunities to learn.

Supporting Children's Learning

Learning environments and instructional supports designed by educators, described in Chapter 5, are central as children participate in science and engineering.


Learning science and engineering is not neutral because the disciplines are not neutral.
Learning is a social and cultural process.
Learning is a process of identity development.
Children move through a range of cultural contexts and contextual variations shape how and what each child learns.


Integration across content areas both contributes to building meaningful bridges and eliminates the silos that are less and less reflective of how scientists and engineers work and, more broadly, or modern life.

Engage children in investigation and design experiences that draw on multiple domains Make integration explicit in design and teaching Recognize that more integration is not necessarily better Support children’s knowledge in individual disciplines
  • Incorporate text to help children develop and deepen explanations and situate reading in conceptually coherent, meaningful pursuits of understanding and solutions.
  • Incorporate text describing doing and using science/engineering to expand views of science/engineering and help children develop identities and interests.
  • Support children in producing texts and inscriptions to represent reasoning.
  • Help children engage in quantification (distinguishing and developing measures for attributes).
  • Support children in transforming & analyzing data, and understanding foundational concepts of data representation and statistics.
  • Use science/engineering contexts to highlight computational thinking practices
  • Use computational thinking as method for exploring science/engineering concept

Chapter 6 unpacks what meaningful integration looks like.


High-quality instruction requires curriculum materials that

  • Build toward the vision of the Framework;
  • Are grounded in investigation and design;
  • Are coherent, flexible, adaptable, equitable, responsive; and
  • Have evidence supporting their effectiveness.
knowledge, beliefs, & attitudes characteristics of the materials school & classroom contexts use and adaptation of materials + + =
  • Using multiple forms of support
  • Providing suggestions for productive adaptations
  • Providing supports that are situated in teachers’ practice
  • Incorporating educative features that can be used directly as teaching tools
  • Focusing on supporting sensemaking and evidence-based claims
  • Using instrumental science and engineering practices to incrementally work toward change in teachers’ practice


Teachers in preschool through elementary school usually teach all subject areas, including science and engineering, as well as often covering such nonacademic fields as art and music. They also support children’s social, emotional, and physical well-being.

Although these teachers are unlikely to be experts in all fields, they bring a commitment to and understanding of children, and are themselves inquisitive about the world. To build on those assets to implement a new approach to science and engineering education, teachers need and deserve a wide variety of supports across their preservice and professional careers.


School and district leaders set the organizational culture and priorities for teachers. Thus, their role is key in transforming science and engineering education for preschool through elementary school.

Emphasize the importance of science and engineering through policy and management, including structures around instructional time, resources, and staffing. Implement the use of science specialists,departmentalization, or team teaching. Integrate science and engineering with other classroom activities. Gain professional learning opportunities that can be supported and enhanced with science and engineering organizations and universities. School and District Leaders