The Missing T & E in Early Childhood STEM: Young Children as Programmers and Engineers

Presenters: Amanda Strawhacker and Amanda Sullivan (Marina Bers was not able to attend)
In this session, participants discover how to engage young children with developmentally appropriate curricula and new technologies with a playful approach. Most specifically, the session focuses on technology and engineering (i.e., the missing T & E of STEM) by providing participants opportunities to engage with the Scratch Jr. programming language and the KIWI robotics kit. The presentation includes videos of experiences with these technologies in early childhood classrooms as well as hands-on activities.

Marina Bers, Professor, Tufts University
Marina Bers is a professor at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development and the Computer Science Department at Tufts University. She heads the interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies Research Group. Her research involves the design and study of innovative learning technologies to promote positive youth development. Bers has received prestigious awards such as the 2005 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), a five-year Young Investigator's Career Award, and the American Educational Research Association’s Jan Hawkins Award. Over the past decade and a half, Bers has conceived, designed, and evaluated diverse educational technology projects—ranging from robotics to virtual worlds— in schools, after-school programs, museums, and hospitals, both in the U.S.and abroad. She has received NSF grants and published her research in academic journals, and consulted for educational institutions and educational toy companies. Her book Blocks to Robots: Learning with Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom was published in 2008 by Teacher's College Press. Most recently, she has written Designing Digital Experiences for Positive Youth Development: From Playpen to Playground, which is being published by Oxford University Press. Bers is from Argentina. In 1994,she came to the United States and received a master’s degree in Educational Media from Boston University and an MS and PhD from the MIT Media Laboratory working with Seymour Papert.

Amanda Strawhacker, Research Analyst, Developmental Technologies Research Group, Tufts University
Amanda Strawhacker is a researcher in the Developmental Technologies Research Group. This is her third year working with the group. Strawhacker is currently the coordinator for the ScratchJr project, which focuses on developing, implementing, and evaluating a new version of the Scratch programming language designed especially for early childhood education (K-2nd grade). Her work with STEM for early childhood has involved curriculum development, teaching, consulting, product design, professional/educator development, and data collection and analysis. Strawhacker completed her master’s in Child Development at Tufts University last spring, and received the Eliot-Pearson Research-Practice Integration Award (2013) for her research with a Boston public school on programming interfaces in kindergarten classrooms.

Amanda Sullivan, Graduate Research Assistant, Developmental Technologies Research Group, Tufts University
Amanda Sullivan is a graduate research assistant at the Developmental Technologies Research Group at Tufts University where she is currently working on the NSF-funded Ready for Robotics project. Ready for Robotics devotes attention to two components of STEM that are often neglected in early childhood education: the “T” of technology and the “E” of engineering. To address this imbalance, Ready for Robotics is creating and evaluating a developmentally appropriate robotics system for use with young children (preK–2). Sullivan’s prior work has included curriculum development, integrating robotics with foundational early childhood content such as math and literacy. She has spent significant time teaching robotics, computer programming, and film production in school and camp settings, and assisting with technology-focused workshops for early childhood educators. Sullivan is currently pursuing her PhD in Child Development at Tufts University, where she was the recipient of the Eliot-Pearson Research-Practice Integration Award in 2012. She holds an MA in Child Development from Tufts and a BA in Psychology and Drama from Bennington College.