Community Wisdom Influences Early Learning STEM Project

When we applied for the Discoveries from the Field Fund grant from Thrive Washington, we knew: exactly what we wanted to do, some materials and activities to complete it, and who in our community would be able to implement it.

But after attending the first meeting with our fellow grantees in October, we knew that we would need to incorporate our preschool community more in what projects we wanted to focus on.

With the design process swirling in our heads, we set out to apply it to our project with our community. During our monthly professional development with our community, we began a process of determining what our preschool teachers would like to see for their classroom, as well as activities they thought would be most beneficial for their students and families.

Of our original plan, we kept the idea of each classroom getting STEM-focused materials and books, and we expanded to meet teacher needs of wanting materials to use outside. After some discussion, we helped the teachers realize that teeter-totters were not going to happen! We also needed a reality check for another aspect of the project: Every classroom would need to obtain technology in the form of computers, iPads and projectors.

One exciting change in our project is the addition of “family checkout materials.” We have had a book-backpack checkout system in use since 2007, so this became a next step. We learned we had to take our time with this part.

A selection of 20 different STEM-focused materials were brought to one meeting and teachers had opportunities to interact with and familiarize themselves with the materials. From that selection, teachers then voted on their top three favorites. We were surprised at how close the votes were; it was easy to see which ones they did not like, but the preferences were less clear on the favorites. We were expecting a more definitive result. (We thought the directors would be able to provide the tie breaker, but their results were similar to the teachers.)

Because of the close vote, and to give more families an opportunity to participate in checking out materials, we selected 10 sets of materials and a book to go with each. These materials are currently being piloted with 10 teachers who volunteered their families to check out the materials and provide feedback. This feedback will determine whether these materials will be purchased for all of our programs to use and check out to their families.