Last month I had the privilege of presenting at the annual California STEAM Symposium with our colleauges Ihuoma and Holly on the findings of our first round of STEAM Starters - a project focused on supporting young learners and early childhood educators through tinkering. Our session, titled Tinkering with STEAM in Early Childhood Settings, invited participants to engage with hands-on tinkering experiences and learn about our collaborative process between the Tinkering Studio and two local preschools. The session started with an introductory exploration of Light Play. We set up three different stations around the room with curated materials sets where folks could engage with light and shadow related phenomena.
Image description: two long tables against a wall displaying light play materials including colorful acrylic shapes and filters, dyed water bottles, 3D figurines, slow moving motor platforms, and lights embedded in wood blocks. There are four white screens propped between the tables and the walls.
We always learn something new when facilitating workshops offsite. At this workshop we tried portable pop-up diffusers (typically used by photographers) as projection screens and they worked great! We'll definitely use these at future workshops. Inevitably, there are complications along the way as well. The morning of the workshop we learned that we couldn't turn off the lights in the room without impacting all of our neighboring sessions as well. Although this activity works better in the dark, the participants still had fun investigating and making observations. (In fact, I was so busy facilitating the group I forgot to take photos of the workshop in action!)
After the light play session, Ihuoma, Holly, and I delved into sharing about the STEAM Starters project. I gave a brief introduction to tinkering as a playful, inquiry-driven process and shared the trajectory of the collaborative arc. Since the project involved several different groups coming together, it was important for us to include both hands-on leanring and time to get on the same page with our goals and values. Our process of activity testing, documentation and iteration, and reflection was a cyclical process that we revisited throughout the course of our 16 weeks of programming.
Next, Ihuoma and Holly shared their experiences of our collaboration. They focused on their schools' respective starting points and comfort with STEAM, important stories of student growth and learning, and the impact of reflection and documentation. Some teachers at the start of the project felt very comfortable with open-ended exploration and STEAM-related content, whereas others felt nervousness and that science wasn't for them. Across both schools, the children were able to engage deeply with materials-based investigations, ask questions, make observations, connect to past expereinces, and document their work. The educators who were most nervous about science experienced important changes in their teaching practice as well. They were able to make a mental shift from feeling they needed to be an "expert" on a topic to being a co-learner alongside their students, and grew in confidence of being able to identify and support moments of STEAM learning.
We ended the presentation with a brief Q&A session for participants. Folks were interested in learning more about how documentation can support assessment, how tinkering as an approach could support learners of different ages, and where they can find the light blocks for their own classrooms (Instructable coming soon!). It's always a joy to share our work with colleagues and make connections with others in the field working in this realm.
This project is supported through a generous grant from the Early Learning and Care Division at the California Department of Education.