Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

STEM theory: Art, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math meet in education
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Oct 31, 2012, 12:09

photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Children at Cornerstone Tender Care learned about simple machines, including the wheel and exle, during their art influenced STEM classes.

The pre-school class at Cornerstone Tender Care looks much like any other pre-school class. A small group of children form a circle around a teacher as they follow her lead in a simple song and dance routine.

Take a minute to listen to the song’s words, and it becomes clear it’s not a typical pre-school song at all. Its subject is the six step engineering process.

The song and other activities that involved use of simple machines and exercises to help understand basic scientific phenomena were all part of a program brought to the local area by a partnership between Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and the Northrop Grumman Foundation. that combines two seemingly different fields of endeavor into one improved education experience.

Children at Cornerstone Tender Care in Petersburg and Lil Angels Day Care in Hopewell spent last week learning about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math concepts through the arts.

The Northrop Grummon Foundation, which focuses on STEM education initiatives, has been working with Wolf Trap for two years now and has helped bring the program to a number of schools across the country. This year, 10 locations throughout the country were selected to participate in the program, including the two in the local region.

“What we’re doing with the really young children, is we’re trying to develop habits of mind or a way of looking at things,” explained Jeanne Wall, the teaching artist and drama specialist with Wolf Trap.

“It’s not like we’re expecting great engineering and high level skills, but we’re starting them to think about a way of asking questions and a way of solving problems.”

Wall said that she has seen children she taught in the past integrate the skills they learned through the program into their daily lives. When one child started crying, the others asked him to identify the problem and started coming up with plans to address it, the first steps in the engineering process.

For Northrop Grummon, the company behind the foundation funding the initiative, helping schools find a way to engage their students and get them interested in STEM subjects serves two purposes.

“With Northrop Grummon it’s important for us to get engaged with the community, to invest and give back to the community,” said Jim Kane, Vice President of Northrop Grummon, who noted approximately 800 of the company’s employees live in the Tri-Cities area.

For the company, which develops and produces aerospace, electronic and information systems, it’s also a way to create a future work force that has mastery of the skills the company needs to do what it does.

“To spark interest at this young age, then have that carry through their scholastic career and continue to reflect back on this as a positive experience, hopefully that will lead to interest through middle school, through high school, then hopefully as a career choice or a profession going forward,” Kane said.

Akua Kouyate, senior director of education at Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts said that the arts can be used to educate children in other subjects because the arts engage the students in multiple ways and actively involve them in the concepts.

“From the Wolf Trap perspective, we certainly understand that learning through the arts, because it’s experiential, can really have an impact on children’s learning,” she said.

The two local child care facilities involved have been working with Smart Beginnings Hopewell-Prince George, a local school readiness coalition, to improve their early childhood development efforts. Katie Sloan, director of Smart Beginnings, said that when Northrop Grummon asked her for advice on which local facilities to choose, she suggested Cornerston Tender Care and Lil Angels.

She said that integrating subjects is an important part of early childhood education that can also benefit older students too.

“We take the arts, and then we put the arts into all the other pieces of their development. Their social and emotional development, their motor development, their cognitive development, their language development,” she said. “So it’s an integrated approach to learning, which is really what early childhood is about. And of course, now, it’s moving up, because now we realize hands on learning is so much more effective for everyone, not just young children.”

Reverend Horace Jones, with Cornerstone Tender Care, said he was excited to host a program that he thinks will help young children master concepts by putting them in a format children memorize.

“If you do something over and over again, eventually, their young minds are going to catch it,” he said.

And from there, he said, they can take concrete facts and expand them into abstract concepts.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Wolf Trap education specialist Jeanne Wall sang songs and showed pictures of the six steps of engineering.

“It’s really about innovative thinking, and sparking that interest in that innovative thinking at a young age,” Kane said.

 STEM education has been a hot topic in recent years, and the partnership that can now include the local area as a region it has reached has garnered praise from state leaders.

“The Northrop Grumman/Wolf Trap partnership has created an innovative and interactive program to engage our youngest citizens in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which are vital to future workforce development and economic prosperity,” Senator Mark Warner, D-VA, said in a statement.

For the 37 children at Cornerstone Tender Care, who range in age from just a few weeks to five years old, the education initiatives they participate in now could shape their lives.

“When young children experience quality early learning opportunities during the years from ages zero to five, they are better prepared to start Kindergarten ready to learn and be successful.”

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