Young children's knowledge building: Fostering and enriching children's STEM working theories

Year: 2017

Author: Lovatt, Daniel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Working theories are an innovative learning outcome described in the Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood curriculum: Te Wh?riki (Ministry of Education, 2017). These comprise knowledge, skills, strategies, attitudes and expectations and are a way that people make sense of the world. By focusing on working theories as combining outcome, process, and interpretive framework leading to further learning, I am exploring how working theories align with the sociocultural concept of trialogy. That is where learning is the creation of new knowledge formed by focusing "on collaborative development of mediating objects or artefacts" (Hakkarainen & Paavola, 2009, p. 67). This paper will focus on children's working theories about the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) domains. STEM education is currently receiving much political focus, viewed as critical to a country's success internationally. While government funding and programs have targeted primary and later education, early childhood education settings in New Zealand have been overlooked. However, an early introduction to the STEM domains might lead to positive attitudes, early understandings and interests that continue through life.
I will present early findings from my doctoral research - a qualitative case study investigating early childhood teachers' approaches that might enrich and refine children's working theories about STEM domains. The study is in-progress in two early childhood centres in Aotearoa, New Zealand, using observation and video-recording of teacher interactions with children. Using two selected episodes of children's working theories about science, technology, engineering and maths domains, I will focus on illustrating one metaphor of learning that has been positioned within trialogy: knowledge building (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003). This metaphor foregrounds conceptual entities, ideas and theories that are both valued by, and are valuable for a community. I argue that working theories can be considered as conceptual and knowledge artefacts and therefore as mediators of further learning. Teachers might then use this perspective to inform approaches that enrich children's working theories knowing that they mediate further learning, and further enriched working theories.