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Volume 12 Number 2
©The Author(s) 2010

Introduction to the Special Issue on STEM in the Lives of Young Children

Lilian G. Katz & Jean Mendoza

We are pleased to bring you this special issue of Early Childhood Research & Practice on young children and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). As anyone who has spent time observing children’s interactions with their environments realizes, young children are engaged in ongoing encounters with principles of math and the sciences in the world around them. They also seek to understand a wide range of technologies. They frequently apply what they understand of math, science, and technology to their own processes of design and construction. Those understandings (and misunderstandings) change as children continue with increasing sophistication to make the best sense they can of their own experience.

We are honored to feature a guest editorial by Demetra Evangelou, assistant professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University and recipient of a National Science Foundation career grant for research on early learning experiences as antecedents of engineering education. Dr. Evangelou's comments call upon readers to consider ways in which we might help young children create the beginnings of essential understandings of STEM that will enable them to address the needs of an increasingly complex world, including their own needs as human beings in that world.

Research in child development and in education can move us toward a deeper understanding of children’s interactions with STEM concepts and practices. In this issue, for example, Evangelou and colleagues report on their study of preschool-age children’s exploratory behaviors when exposed to familiar and unfamiliar artifacts under three different conditions, for the purpose of discerning what conditions seem most likely to encourage their engineering thinking. Children’s uses of photographic technology were central to Darlene DeMarie’s research on children’s perceptions of their schools; child participants in that study were asked to use cameras in prescribed ways and to respond to photographs.

Aikaterini Bagiati and colleagues report on their investigation of Web sites and online documents relevant to engineering education for young children. They also provide some preliminary suggestions for determining the quality of online engineering-related open resources for teachers. Marina Bers describes the TangibleK Robotics Program, which engages children in applied computational thinking and utilization of a robotics kit.

Three articles in this issue address children’s STEM explorations in classrooms and at home. George Forman's video clips and reflections reveal much about what such processes may look like in 2- and 3-year-olds. Veteran early childhood teachers Barbara Gallick and Lisa Lee describe a car wash project and show how finding out about everyday technologies may inspire preschool-age children to engineer their own working models of machinery and electronics. Boulder Journey School teacher Christy Spencer reflects on some of the ways that prekindergarten children addressed problems related to size and scale as they attempted to re-create an undersea environment for their school’s theater space.

We hope that this special issue informs ECRP readers’ own thinking and leads to new questions and speculation about science, technology, engineering, and math in the lives of young children. We look forward to receiving your comments on this issue or on any of the articles in ECRP.