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Guided Learning Through Play

McKinney ISD, McKinney, Texas
McKinney ISD
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Playing with fire in the Lawson Early Childhood School has a whole new meaning—and it’s a good thing. In McKinney ISD in Texas, students as young as 3 are learning lifelong math and science skills by designing structures, coding robots and conducting science experiments.

Lawson is unique in providing STEAM learning for all students while blending higher-order thinking with the play necessary for young learners. While STEAM lessons are aligned to Texas’ pre-K guidelines, open-ended tasks requiring communication and critical thinking allow students to find various solutions to problems.

The Lawson team designed a teaching cycle of thinking, planning, doing and reflecting to ensure success in the new STEAM lab.  

“I can” statements are built in so students acquire the needed academic and social vocabulary. And teachers learn about STEAM lessons through flipped learning videos, giving them a chance to ask questions about the lessons in advance.

In the lab, students partake in open-ended, hands-on experiences that cover an overarching theme, such as energy or construction, requiring them to think, question and communicate. Following the lab, teachers hone in on vocabulary and creative problem-solving as they discuss the activities with students. It prepares them for what’s in store.

College and career readiness standards mandate that students graduate as creative, innovative, collaborative learners and risk-takers. The STEAM lab has highlighted the need for exposure to hands-on learning. Those who know how to think like engineers, scientists and artists become flexible thinkers in whatever career they choose.

And the lab has coached teachers to design classroom lessons incorporating higher-order thinking and questioning skills that encourage learners to be innovative risk-takers.

School administrators also founded #ECEchat, a weekly Twitter chat that connects early childhood educators around the world who have lead chats about STEAM in the early childhood years.

To start your own program:

  • Meaningful lessons can be accomplished with existing materials. Focus on how to use supplies already on hand in creative ways. Start small and engage teachers in the process.
  • Every step in the learning process is important. Conversations and reflections are crucial to students’ ability to communicate learning and to draw conclusions.