How to STEM preschoolers - This is how I did it at DIGITAF

Digitaf is a technological kindergarten located in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Holon and our mission is to improve the area through the education of the children. In addition to the regular curriculum of a kindergarten, I am exposing the children to science and technology while encouraging them to ask questions, explore and bring their ideas to life.

1. Science

During last year I conducted a program of science experiments. In order to keep the spirit of the kindergarten, I added a linguistic element. The sessions are in small groups of four to six children. First, I ask a question, the kids answer according to their knowledge or imagination and then we come up with an experimental method. During the experiment, I lead the children to make up a related story, each boy or girl adds their part and together we come up with a funny narrative patched from their words. 

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In the picture above is an experiment of a soda volcano, the story behind it was told by five kids;  It's about a guy named Aks Gaash, he works at a volcano with a special suit and his job is to make sure the town is safe from the volcano. One day on his way to the mountain, he meets a woman, they kiss, get married and have two kids. They adopt a dog that eats a lizard and gets sick and the day after they eat a lot of ice cream and get sick too. One day Aks Gaash is working at the volcano and suddenly he is feeling that it is going to erupt, he runs to the town and warns everyone to evacuate. 

Every experiment is followed by more questions and the children are inspired to imagine, think and be creative. It is an empowering activity and I would recommend it at any kindergarten.

2. Technology

Digitaf is located near Israel's official Fablaba community-based digital fabrication laboratory. The Children are exposed to fabrication tools and machines such as: 3D printers, vinyl and laser cutters, CNC machines and more. 

The children at Digitaf use computers as an autodidact tool. Googale is an Israeli search engine for kids, who are not proficient in reading. It allows children to search and retrieve information on topics of interest (such as animals and their way of life, plants, countries and peoples, earth and space, holidays, etc.). The information is presented to them as images, words and sounds.

We have 3D printers at the kindergarten and the children are exposed to the technology in different ways. At first I introduce them to Tinkercad and 123D Design, both programs are intuitive and easy to use as tools for 3D design. Next I introduce the children to the 3D printing process during a session I had developed. We choose 3 identical shapes, situated in different angles and print them together while changing the filament color to highlight the layers. Then they use the printers to build their toys

3. Engineering

The best way I found to teach kids how stuff works is by showing them hands on. The parents bring old toys and electronics and the kids disassemble them. Before they start, I ask them to describe what's inside, how it work and how would it look like. I let them draw the inner parts out of their imagination. After all the screws are unfastened and the toy is dismantled, I tell them the name of the parts, their purpose and we have a short conversation. They Draw the inner parts and we compare the before and after drawings. Sometimes when we open a broken toy and find a detached wire we fix it.

The children love working with real tools on real mechanisms. It is an excellent exercise that teaches mechanics and electronics, improves fine motor skills and confidence.

Another aspect of engineering is programing or coding. At Digitaf we teach code using Scratch Junior on tablets. The children can program their own interactive stories and games. In the process, they learn to solve problems, design projects, and express themselves creatively.

4. Math

The foundation of math are numbers. There are many ways to teach how to read and write numbers and also how to pronounce them and count. One of the fun methods I found is by measuring things; Lengths of objects, weighing, comparing the heights of the kids and a Long Jump Competition.

Each child jumps as far as he or she can and measures how far. We document the readings of all the kids in a spreadsheet and keep track of their improvement during the year. The activity is fun for all of the children because their participation is noticed and recognized among their friends.