Digitizing Inquiry-Based Science in Early Elementary Grades

Digitizing Inquiry-Based Science in Early Elementary Grades

Anne E. Karabon, Chelsi Janicek
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6888-0.ch015
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Education was disrupted this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to societal shifts, teachers were nimble to quickly adapt to a distanced or remote context by recreating traditional curriculum as virtual content. By leveraging digital technology to transform learning experiences, early childhood educators may see beneficial results in how children and families embrace science inquiry in a virtual context. This chapter describes how digitized inquiry activities can be developed by early childhood teachers (PreK-3rd grade) in response to teaching and learning in a distance and remote learning context, with an in-depth description of a 3rd grade teachers' experience. The authors, in a scholarly conversational manner, discuss what was learned in the process of creating the virtual science instructional videos and provide ideas for others to engage in the creation of high-quality virtual learning experiences for young children.
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Before the shift to distance learning due to COVID-19, when students were allowed to collaborate and experiment together, our plan unit was amazing. Students were able to really get hands on with seeds, germinated plants, and full-grown adult vegetable plants. They could witness the science for themselves. My teaching partner and I love science and hands-on learning, so we got creative when the “Spring of 2020” happened. We were both comfortable with being on camera and knew the technology and applications needed to pull off some fun science lessons. I turned my kitchen into a greenhouse with all sorts of plants growing to document the experience. Yes, teachers can simply use resources already created, but in my opinion, I wanted to still try and keep whatever connection I still had with my students alive, so it had to be me! -Ms. Janicek



The logistical gymnastics necessary to sustain learning in a remote context left educators around the world searching for innovative ways to present instruction with limited crucial resources. Once the shock of change subsided, teachers like Ms. Janicek uncovered ways to translate interactive lessons to an online platform. As described in the vignette, the goal was to maintain inquiry-based learning that positioned children in the learning rather than being passive observers on a screen. To accomplish this, Ms. Janicek had to embrace the messiness of play and inquiry-based teaching and learning in a new classroom environment. She had to be nimble to digitize scientific inquiry to motivate students to ask questions, be curious, and take risks online. The result of her paradigm shift? Children co-constructed new understandings with her and one another about scientific phenomena.

In the last decade, considerable attention and funding have focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)-related educational experiences starting in the early elementary school years (K-3rd grade). Calls for a stronger focus on mathematics and science in early childhood education have led to recent curricular and pedagogical changes emphasizing interdisciplinary STEM activities; however, technology-rich learning experiences continue to be neglected in early education (An & Reigeluth, 2010). Early educators often use digital devices for assessment or communication purposes yet remain hesitant to reinvent their teaching approach with the integration of technology for learning purposes (Mourlam & Montgomery, 2015).

The attention on standards and best practices for integrating technology into early childhood contexts (NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, 2012; Early Childhood Australia [ECA], 2018) and the recent need for distance or remote learning serve as catalysts for embracing technology to aid in the co-construction of knowledge with young children. This does not mean that children have to be passive in technology-based learning. As expressed in the opening vignette, educators can design inquiry instruction using digital technology to promote active, hands-on learning no matter the learning environment (home, school, or informal learning space).

What it takes is early educators, such as Ms. Janicek, who plans instruction that integrates principles of learning, content, and capabilities and challenges of technology tools, otherwise known as Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). TPACK is a conceptual framework that broadened Schulman’s (1986) teacher competencies framework called pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). PCK suggests the interplay of content, pedagogical, and technological knowledge to effectively teach content that is comprehensible to students. The TPACK framework provides a theoretical model that is particularly helpful to guide teachers’ choices and planning of lessons or learning experiences that incorporate technology. Despite efforts in early childhood teacher education programs to integrate technology training into courses and require preservice teachers to utilize digital technology in clinical practice, preservice teachers do not necessarily understand how to effectively implement digital devices with young children (Brown & Englehardt, 2017; Clark et al., 2015).

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