How Does Technology Support STEM and Early Learning?

Technology can be a powerful tool to support learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). There are many resources that use technology to make STEM come to life for young children, allowing access to experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have. For example, children can use the panda cams at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park to observe animals that aren’t found in their everyday lives, take virtual tours of science museums, and observe cause and effect through simulations and games, without risk of harm.

When combined with social interactions and guidance from parents and early educators, the combination of video and games (transmedia) can be powerful tools at home and in the classroom to promote STEM learning. For example, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting-PBS, a 2010 grantee of ED’s Ready to Learn Television program demonstrated significant improvement in 4-year olds’ math skills when using the PBS KIDS Transmedia Math Supplement to bolster mathematics instruction.42 The 2015 Ready to Learn Television program grant application included a competitive priority to support scientific literacy, which has additional potential to support young children in STEM.

The “T” in STEM is often confused with technological devices such as tablets, laptops, and other physical devices or with the broad term “educational technology.” Educational technology is content agnostic and describes using technology as a tool to promote learning across disciplines or content areas. The “T” in STEM, however, is intended to introduce children to the underlying concepts of building or creating technology, including computational thinking, which is the basic logic underlying computer science and is beginning to be incorporated into early childhood settings.

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