Open Discussion on the Role of Education Technologies in Early Childhood STEM Education

On April 21st, the U.S. Department of Education came together with the White House and numerous public and private partners to announce our shared commitment to improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education in early learning (Preschool – 3rd Grade).  Early engagement in STEM is critical for our youngest learners because opportunity gaps in STEM can begin prior to preschool—and they can continue grow as students progress through school.  There are a host of ways that the public and private sectors can partner to better address this STEM opportunity gap in early learning, such as integrating STEM with the arts and literacy, and using education technologies including screen media (e.g., television, computers, videogames, tablets).  We believe that the use of technology can be an important tool for closing these gaps when used intentionally and appropriately in conjunction with other forms of pedagogy.

The U.S. Department of Education would like to initiate a discussion with the early learning and STEM communities on how best to engage and support parents, caregivers, educators, researchers and developers on how to eliminate opportunity gaps in early childhood STEM education, especially by leveraging education technologies. This conversation will inform federal policy decisions in the coming months.

Call to Action:

We ask early childhood educators and researchers, in particular, to help address these fundamental questions:

  1. Recommendations for screen media use in early childhood vary. It is difficult for educators, parents and caregivers to make informed decisions about which content is effective and how and when to use it. For example, how can educators, parents and caregivers best determine what content is age-appropriate?
  2. How can we make it easier for educators, parents and caregivers to select applications that are high quality and proven effective? What research gaps do we need to address to inform these types of decisions?
  3. How do we effectively support professional development (PD) for educators to facilitate the effective use of education technologies to close STEM opportunity gaps in early learning settings? How can education technologies help provide effective PD?
  4. How can we help media developers address the needs of diverse students and those with special needs to increase student engagement, and to promote social emotional learning?
  5. How can we bridge the opportunity gaps between STEM education, literacy, and the arts? What, if any, is the role of technology and screen media in these efforts?

Please submit your comments and questions in this open forum by 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday, May 13, 2016.  We seek open and robust discussion of these issues so that we can improve education outcomes for all young children and provide effective guidance for parents, caregivers, and educators.

Recommended Reading (in chronological order):

Media Use By Children Younger Than 2 Years
American Academy of Pediatrics (2011)

Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8
Fred Rogers Center and NAEYC (2012)

Envisioning a Digital Age Architecture for Early Education
New America Foundation (2014)

Tech in the Early Years: What Do We Know and Why Does It Matter?
Fred Rogers Center (2014)

Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight
Zero to Three (2014)

Getting a Read on the App Stores : A Market Scan and Analysis of Children’s Literacy Apps
Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2015)

Beyond Turn it off: How to Advise Families on Media Use
American Academy of Pediatrics (2015)

Apps en familia: Guía para usar apps con tus hijos
Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2015)

Use of Technology to Support Early Childhood Practice: Full Report
Health and Human Services Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (2015)

Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families
Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2016)

Note: These resource materials are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of these materials is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of any outside information included in these materials.

Thank you for your comments. The comment period is now closed.  Please join our list serv at for updates and progress on the joint statement.


  1. As a Science Content Specialist for PreK-3 I feel that it is important that our youngest children are given the opportunity to explore, problem solve and think creatively; which I think has been taken away from them in exchange for making sure they “learn” by memorizing, repeated practice and fed information rather than “discovering” it for themselves. STEM is the new buzz word for today, and I am all for it, but we must be careful how we interpret that word. Does that mean that children are given computers at an early age and play “educational” games on them in the name of “T” technology, that they are taught science concepts through watching a video in the name of “S” science, memorize math facts in the name of “M” math? Or does it mean we give them a problem to solve like “How are we going to make a dog house that will keep the dog dry in winter and cool in summer?” “What should it be made of?” “How can we design it?” and then use “technology” like hammers, nails or even paper, pencils, tape, glue etc. to build a model?

    Sometimes I think we need to remember how our parents interacted with us at an early age – talking, playing, asking questions, thinking, reading to us. I’m not against new ways and new technology, but let’s give our youngest children the opportunities to “think, question, solve”. Maybe we should all read the book – “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards” by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. We can still involve our youngest in STEM, but remember the E stands for the Engineering Design Process which involves planning, thinking, creating, solving, trying, retrying, testing, etc.

  2. When considering use of tablets, computers, etc., be cautious of using these devices in isolation without some sort of hands on activity connected. Very young children need a physical representation in the real world that connects what they are doing on the computer. Something like programming robots is great for young kids.

  3. I concur with other responses regarding the need for hands-on exploring of objects, opportunities to compare and seek understanding of the relationships between objects, as they are used for constructing and deconstructing structures. Experience and research supports the use of materials/ objects with young children, before going to the 2-d pictures, illustrations, and later symbols.

    While I support the use of technology in an appropriate manner, I do not want to see the technology used first which limits the children from using more of their senses to explore with objects.

    Professional development is needed to support teachers in providing inquiry based learning opportunities with young children. Certainly technology- digital microscopes, researching information from appropriate websites, apps used on mobile tablets- can provide supports for teachers and children as one of many tools available for use. Math, Science, Engineering, and the Arts can be integrated with technology, though I would not want Technology tools to be the only objects young children use.

    Interactive apps in which photos can be taken and used for a class book, a slide show, etc. to share learning experiences with other audiences seems appropriate use of technology to represent the learning journey.

    PD in which teachers have learning sessions and on-going coaching is supported by research. How can such a model be implemented? I’ve recently had experience in using a group, practice based coaching opportunity- where teachers shares a video segment from his/her classroom that illustrates a learning strategy or practice with a small group, seeking feedback from the group. (See Teachers Learning and Collaboating- from Head Start). This practice based coaching model has been helpful in studying classroom practice and promoting changes of practice related to instruction.

  4. The new and traditional methods of education must go hand in hand. Neither can be given a back seat in favor of another!

  5. In recent years, classrooms learning are increasingly been supported by ICT-tools such as e-learning environments, digital interactive whiteboards and integrated mobile technologies. New interactive devices, from mobile devices and handhelds to collaborative surfaces, and of applications allow easy access to educational materials and learning apps with various learning activities. These tools already provide a new quality of information access and new type of learning activities, but still these learning situations typically lack authentic real-world experiences. Innovation in technologies such as virtual reality offer new possibilities for addressing this through immersive learning experiences facilitating multiuser interaction, social collaboration and real type of project work through text/chat, sound, voice, video and sharing the screen.

    On 1 October 2015 an international PCP call for tenders was published at the Official Journal of the European Union dedicated to European public procurement.
    This call aimed to acquire research and development services of educational ICT based solutions to support personalized learning environments in STEM courses.

    3D Virtual Steam Laboratory, a French and Finnish consortium, was selected thanks to a very disruptive approach, introducing an extension of the traditional classroom through multiuser virtual learning and hands-on training environments and simulations, that allows ‘experiencing’, ‘exploring’ and ‘collaborating’, as well as more engaging and effective opportunities in STEM learning. This virtual training environment allows students to inquire the pedagogical materials from their own perspective and phenomenal learning process in a natural way (using virtual walk, chat, voice, sound, sharing the screen, exercises etc.). Furthermore, the virtual learning environment provides tools for learners to explore new research environments and offer new scenarios for engaging them with Sciences, Technology and maths training, paying a strong attention to art as well.

    STEAM is a new acronym that has emerged over the last decade and has a multitude of definitions and approaches. Some of the main aims of STEAM are fostering creativity and innovation, active learning and problem solving through introducing Art and Design to STEM. It is about coming to understanding and knowledge (of both STEM and Arts) from different perspectives.

    Henriksen (2014) made a case study of a science teacher with strong interests in arts (music, visual arts, photography) and how he integrated these into his pedagogy.

    In the future and by following new curriculum it will be increasingly important to combine subjects together under phenomenon and evaluate in addition to just subject (based evaluation) also learning process and multi-diciplinary skills and collaborative classroom practices. This means various type of evaluation methods like individual evaluation, team evaluation, interest and motivation in addition to traditional formative and summative evaluation, especially in work-based learning.

    Our multidisciplinary team of practitioners, engineers and researchers uses technology to improve teaching excellence framework and provide a STEM education of greater excellence and support professional development for educators to facilitate the effective use of education technologies to close STEM opportunity gaps in early learning settings.

    Raphael MORAGLIA, IOAP (Intelligent Online Apprenticeship Platform)

  6. Overall I echo others’ statements that hands-on experiences (as sensory input is thought to contribute to parietal lobe development, important for later math and science abilities), unstructured problem-solving (many apps are closed-loop design), and social problem-solving (e.g., working on a problem and planning out solutions together, whether on an iPad or on paper/building models, etc, rather than individually) are crucial to STEAM learning.

    1.Recommendations for screen media use in early childhood vary. It is difficult for educators, parents and caregivers to make informed decisions about which content is effective and how and when to use it. For example, how can educators, parents and caregivers best determine what content is age-appropriate?
    — This is difficult for most parents to judge, as most ‘educational’ apps have very broad age range suggestions on the app stores. In my research many parents say they let the children choose and download apps, not the parents!

    2.How can we make it easier for educators, parents and caregivers to select applications that are high quality and proven effective? What research gaps do we need to address to inform these types of decisions?
    — As recent Joan Ganz Cooney Center reviews have shown, many commercially available educational apps target very rote skills or are not tested for efficacy. It would be helpful if a centralized body (e.g., the way Common Sense Media provides helpful reviews for parents) could evaluate educational technologies before use in classrooms, so that teachers have a warehouse of good choices (which they can also recommend to parents).

    4.How can we help media developers address the needs of diverse students and those with special needs to increase student engagement, and to promote social emotional learning?
    — One approach might be to encourage tech design that is geared towards groups of students, rather than the child using it on their own. This way the technology becomes a tool for the children to use together, to build their group-work skills. For example an evaluation of Bedtime Math (Science, 2016) showed that dyad-based design was more effective at teaching children math skills, because they had to involve the parents in their learning (which dozens of studies show improves young children’s learning from digital media).

    5.How can we bridge the opportunity gaps between STEM education, literacy, and the arts? What, if any, is the role of technology and screen media in these efforts?
    — Low income young children are more likely to use screen media for entertainment purposes than for educational purposes. In my research, lower-income parents express much less confidence in helping their children find good digital products and building digital literacy. They use more free apps, which are of lower quality and have advertisements. It would be ideal if technology can be used to 1) increase parent-educator communication about the child, 2) increase the parent’s involvement in their child’s educational experience, 3) provide ideas to low-resource parents about free quality tools and activities for them to use with their children, and 4) build digital literacy in parents and children.

  7. I have researched for some time the issues surrounding early childhood education and STEM. As policy makers place an emphasis on quality early childhood education and STEM for our youngest learners, little has been mentioned as to ‘HOW’ to integrate science in a manner that it is not taught as a single subject. Traditionally the focus for science for young children has been placed on conducting hands on science activities which for the most part is conducted in isolation from the rest of the subject matter offered in the classroom.
    For the most part preservice teacher’s introduction to science are in the context of college science courses and with in-service teachers it is primarily professional development courses. The lack of appropriate materials that foster scientific observations and predictions may be a mitigating factor as to science is not taught to young children. Many teachers are left piece together their own lesson plans or to purchase expensive science kits, leaving those centers with limited budgets out in the dark when it comes to science.
    To date I believe that the emphasis in early childhood education has been placed on literacy and math and not science due to the lack of understanding how science can be taught in a manner that is fun as well as educational to children and teachers. In scientific observation teachers can assist children in developing their receptive language and comprehension skills. In developing a topic to research teachers can scaffold a child’s logical mathematical skills by assisting them in finding relationships or patterns. In addition to developing a child’s predictive and deductive reasoning skills, teaching science to an increase in vocabulary in the context of science.
    The current consensus is that child centric learning with an emphasis on literacy and math allows for the development of executive function skills. However, a study conducted by Nafield, Fuccillo, and Greenfield (2013) stated that there is a much stronger relationship between executive function skills and learning science than between math and literacy.

    As stated earlier I feel that the issue is ‘How” to present science to young children. Also it can be said that the comfort level of teachers in teaching science may also be a factor as to why more science is not taught to young children. In my opinion there must be a vehicle by which teachers are comfortable in teaching children science.
    Currently there are few science picture books that allow for a rich visual/textual experience for the student. Additionally there are few curriculums that integrate science across various content areas. Through the approach of dialogic reading, I feel that science can be integrated with math, language arts and include activities that assist in executive function, gross and fine motor skills. In utilizing a dialogic approach to science, science will not be seen as a single subject to be taught randomly in class but as a subject that reaches across all content areas to provide a rich learning experience for the child as well as the teacher.
    Children are naturally curious and want to explore the world around them. Teaching science in a manner that incorporates modeled and purposeful play is a means by which children can be gently guided to understand the world in which they wish to explore.

  8. Below is a brief statement in support of a policy to give preference to Free/Libre Software tools in educational settings. The statement touches on pedagogy, culture, technical merit, and realpolitik.

    We begin by discussing motivation. We assert that Behaviorist approaches, while seemingly efficient in the short term do not result in motivated learners. What does motivate learners? The triplet—autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose—recently popularized by Dan Pink yet grounded in the work of Khaneman, Deci, Ryan, Ariely, and many others (in the guise of frameworks such as Self Determination Theory, et al.) have demonstrable impact on motivation.

    If we accept this premise, how do we achieve autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose? We will argue to that the choice of tools matters and that we can provide scaffolding for autonomy, mastery, and purpose by capitalizing on the inherent capacity in both teachers and learners through Free/Libre Software (See [1], the definition of Free/Libre Software on the Free Software Foundation website).

    Issues arising from learners using software on various digital devices (e.g. video-game consoles, personal computers, mobile phones) all stem from the same fundamental problem—learners are not routinely given the freedoms (and personal privacy) they need to use these tools for learning. Most learning “Apps” are self-contained and cannot be used outside of the content which the author/publisher has dictated. (Imagine a hammer that can only be used to strike a restricted set of nails into a restricted set of lumber. Without the freedom to study and modify their tools—which is not restricted in the physical world—the users of this hammer will not be able to improve upon and expand its uses.) Learners need the ability to apply tools to problems of their own choosing. Further, learners need the opportunity to explore the tools they use as learning possibilities, in and of themselves.

    All software and hardware has the potential to be a learning tool. However, the software and hardware being distributed to the public is too often locked down with restrictions that prevent them from being used as such. In order for learning to happen, the technology tools need to be free in the “liberty” sense of the word. Students could, for example, learn much about math, science, logic, and more from even frivolous software and hardware games if—and only if—students are given the freedom, as well as the means, to (1) use, (2) share freely, (3) study, and (4) modify and redistribute modifications of all the software and hardware they use.

    As educators, we have an ethical obligation to empower the next generation with the powerful ideas that are the driving force for the technology that they use today. As a nation, we have an ethical obligation to empower our educational institutions with the freedoms that they need to take control over how their technology works. What the public education system in America needs is Free/Libre Software.

    Hardware and software tools that respect the freedom and privacy of its users empower teachers and learners to explore and study their technology, thus allowing them to learn how it works. It also allows them to modify their technology, thus allowing them to have a say in what the technology does—how it works in the classroom. (An aside on privacy: while proprietary cloud services are convenient, it is unrealistic to expect a young child to make informed decisions about sharing their personal information online. We are forcing children into potentially compromising situations when we defer to these services.)

    At the present moment, the hardware and software tools being distributed to our nation’s schools, educators, and students are locked down with restrictions that are outside of the control of its users—hardware and software that impose such restrictions prevent learning opportunities and dis-empower its users. Free/Libre Software and Free/Libre Hardware, on the other hand, invite all users to become its contributors. After all, don’t we want today’s learners to become tomorrow’s teachers and leaders?

    Free/Libre Software is respectful to teachers in that it is embodied in a culture of responsibility and self-reliance. While there is no requirement on behalf of Free/Libre Software to “look under the hood” or make modifications, the fact that the opportunity exists sends a message that the teacher and learner do not have to accept things as they are, but rather, they can be agents of change and part of a community of like-minded individuals.

    Case Study for Free/Libre Software in Education: Sugar Labs
    At Sugar Labs [2], we make a collection of Free/Libre Software tools that learners use to explore, discover, create, and reflect. We are non-profit and led by volunteers. We distribute these tools freely and encourage our users to appropriate them, taking ownership and responsibility for their learning. Sugar Labs was spun out of the One Laptop per Child [3] project in 2008.

    One goal at Sugar Labs is to have our user community engage in the development process. Towards this end, we have provided scaffolding to support our users in their exploration of the tools themselves and how the tools are built. Our users are never more than one “mouse click” away from seeing the source code of any Sugar App (or Sugar itself). A second “click” gives the user a copy of the code that can be modified in place.

    This has not been just an intellectual exercise: in our recent software releases, more than 50% of the “patches” have come from youth contributors (10–15 years of age). (We have also had numerous contributions from teachers.) If you design for end-user contributions, then learners will take ownership and the responsibility that comes with ownership. Sugar users, even when they don’t made contributions to the code, are active learners, who are immersed in a culture where they are encouraged to create as well as consume.

    While we believe that there would be benefit to teachers and learners alike if the Department of Education adopted Sugar software into its elementary education offerings, we bring it up here solely as a case study of the impact of Free/Libre Software on learning.

    We close with a brief discussion of the politics of education in the United States. There has been wide-spread push back on Federal Government intervention in curriculum and assessment (through programs such as Common Core, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, etc.). While there are good arguments on either side of the debate, the push for local control has been in ascent. (The rapidly growing “opt out” movement is one example; the growing home-schooling movement is another example.) Free/Libre Software is Libertarian in spirit and practice in that it guarantees that control ultimately resides in the local community, the individual school, classroom, teacher, student, and/or parent. Thus a policy in support of Free/Libre Software for education by the Department of Education would be responsive to the politics of the day while preserving the mandate to provide equitable and quality opportunities for all citizens.

    Our goal is to provide every child with a quality education. We submit that Free/Libre Software will have long-term impact on quality, equitable nation-wide access, and efficiency as it is empowering to learners and teachers.

    Walter Bender
    Devin Ulibarri


  9. This initiative seems to be entirely focused on the educational perspective. Final “users” of the product, students in technical education, are missing. As a retired systems engineer and supporter of an elementary grade STEM club (4th and 5th grades) I have begun to understand the difficulty of the educators in teaching the current generation and appreciate much more the role of teachers. The following are observations that I have picked up from not just the club but also interactions with STEM/STEM related activities such as science and Maker fairs and STEM conferences.

    Much of the emphasis in STEM is what I call the “jock” model, i.e. competition* . In my many years of practice I really never competed directly “face to face” with other teams. Submitting a proposal was as close as I had in competing but never went one on one with the competing teams. Science fairs/games focus on the “best and brightest” and not on the real team work most technical efforts actually require. Clearly it is easier to work with the kid that knows what a partial differential equation is but they will move forward regardless of barriers we may put in their way. I suspect that many children are not competition oriented and will not participate in such activities.

    I have found that many “users” have shortfalls in not just degreed staff but also technicians and skilled personnel, e.g. numerical machine operators. Without these persons many technical teams would fail. The children who can do these types of tasks ultimately, may not be articulate or are deficient in reading skill but can disassemble / build things. Unless we stress addressing all levels of needed skills we will still find STEM shortfalls and will be unable to maintain our lead.

    One other observation is the lack of simple manual skills of today’s kids as noted by others. Watching a “screen” certainly exercises some sort of skill but hands-on skill is also needed to function in any technology unless robots become so good this is no longer needed.

    As I have stated I am very appreciative of the work of educators and have some insights into the difficulties they face but suggest a more comprehensive approach to this effort to include the inputs of those looking for STEM skills. I certainly have not identified all needs and these inputs may help guide the key emphases to provide a boost to STEM education at this early age.

    *Just as the NFL and NBA focus on the “stars” we forget the guard who halts the blitz (NFL) or the forward who reliably get the rebounds and feeds the shooter (NBA).

  10. Is it STEM or Stem?
    Putting the T in STEM raises questions about the role of technology as a domain of STAM and as a tool for exploring and learning about the S, E, M domains of STEM and for gaining 21st century digital skills that help young children learn with and learn about technology. Perhaps the “t” for technology for young children should be lowercase to address technology as a powerful and empowering tool that helps young children engage with the world and with others, represent what they are learning and express what they are learning in multiple ways (UDL as a technology integration strategy). The focus for young children should be on using technology as a tool for learning and educators should include computational thinking and pre-coding experiences. Young children need to learn how to use technology and then focus on learning with technology before learning about technology, as they will when it is more developmentally appropriate.

  11. From birth to age eight, children take their first steps into a lifelong journey of learning, exploring and questioning that begins with a child’s early encounters with people and objects and rapidly expands to encompass a community that extends well beyond family and home. While every child’s early experiences are unique there are many experiences that are not universal. The skill gap that emerges and grows exponentially during children’s first years of schooling exposes these inequities in experience, and is particularly evident in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) content areas where economically disadvantaged children are substantially outperformed by their peers.

    The education, research and policy communities have begun to direct attention and resources towards this problem, but many questions persist regarding how best to change the current direction of early STEM learning in this country. How will early learning educators be prepared to teach STEM topics in developmentally appropriate ways? What kinds of resources should they have access to? What role can parents and other family members play in supporting the STEM engagement of young children? The potential for technological tools (software and apps, for example) is often called out as a cost-effective way to address some of the questions and challenges that are identified by educators and others. Technology can offer access to content for adults and can provide children with information as well as interactive opportunities, and can be accessed in homes, schools and other locations where extended families or peers may be included in digital activities. While many of these possibilities for technology are realistic, they also require substantial planning and support to be effective and to be relevant to the lives of young children and the families and communities within which they live, play and learn.

    How Technology Can Make a Difference
    Digital resources, such as narrative-rich videos, mobile apps, and online games with built-in assessments, can play productive roles in preschool teaching and learning, but they require thoughtful integration. Technology tools, even the best-designed ones, can never replace human interaction or good teaching. Children, especially young children, need caring and knowledgeable adults to help them navigate and learn about the world, and this includes the world of technology.

    Digital tools can provide access to a range of information that is otherwise invisible: how seeds sprout roots and grow into plants; how shadows shift as the sun passes overhead; or how wind patterns move storms across the globe. They also can provide models to children and adults about how to ask questions about the world in which we live, and can provide guidance to adults about how to help children conduct experiments, ask questions that can be tested, and provide explanations for phenomena based on the data they collect through their own experiments and through observations of others. Technology can model approaches to learning, ways of interacting with peers, adults or children, and most importantly, it can model through visual and audio information how adults and children can engage in meaningful discourse about science and the world around them. In addition, technology can be a tool for educators to use for their own learning, providing access to resources, professional development and to examples of how developmentally appropriate STEM concepts and activities can be introduced to children in ways that will expand their sphere of experience.

    In our decades of experiences as researchers, developers, and providers of professional development, we have found that early STEM learning and teaching can be enhanced if technology is used to:
    • Provide models of real engagement for educators, parents and children
    • Connect educators to a community of fellow learners, e.g. providing access to professional development opportunities that support STEM content and skills that are appropriate for early learning settings
    • Provide ready access to teacher training resources, such as teaching guides and adaptable student activities, using a variety of modalities
    • Expose children and adults to phenomena and visual and auditory information that they might not otherwise have access to, such as observing things that may not be readily observable in the classroom and recording/reviewing “data”
    • Promote opportunities for children to develop early science skills/practices
    • Engage children in tasks using technology that invite sharing, collaborating and discussion, such as paired playing of digital games. (There is a growing body of evidence that a 1:1 device-to-child approach is not the way to support young children’s learning (Blackwell, Lauricella, Wartella, Robb, & Schomburg, 2013). Instead, technologies, such as touchscreen tablets, are best integrated when children use them in pairs or small groups, which is consistent with a learning-centers structure, e.g. a small set of Chromebooks serves as a learning center in the way that blocks and a water table each is a learning center.)
    • Build on the strengths that technology brings, such as providing opportunities for children to practice newly learned skills through game play, or modeling how children might explore a new task or skill
    • Provide tailored learning opportunities that reflect an educator’s level of prior knowledge or experience
    • Promote social interactions and joint engagement between children and with adults
    • Support the roles and responsibilities of parents and caregivers in supporting integrated, hybrid hands-on learning that goes beyond technology but incorporates technology. Adults can support inquiry-based experiences, incorporating both advanced vocabulary and open-ended questions that have been correlated with improved early literacy scores.

  12. The traditional definition of screen time – one child passively watching one TV – does not serve us very well in the multi-screen, multi-touch, multi-task work d that is young children’s (and their adults) worlds. We need to go beyond number of minutes watching as the only metric. Time is a metric, of course, but parents and educators need to dig deeper to consider the content on the screen, the level of engagement of the child (or children) with the content, the appropriateness of the content for the individual child, and the opportunities for joint engagement. Educators know when “enough is enough” and it’s time to move a child from the block corner back into the room to interact with classmates, or when a child can’t get past a specific activity or material without a gentle nudge. The same is true for screen-based media – as adults and media mentors for young children we need to know when it’s time to transition to another materials, engage with other children, go outside to play, etc. The think about digital devices is that they have on and off switches, so it is the adult’s role to dermic when it is on and when it is off. I can’t come to that decision point simply by counting minutes on the screen any more than minutes spent reading a book or finger painting provides a reliable gauge for when it has ben long enough.

  13. Is it screen time or simply time?
    The traditional definition of screen time – one child passively watching one TV – does not serve us very well in the multi-screen, multi-touch, multi-task work d that is young children’s (and their adults) worlds. We need to go beyond number of minutes watching as the only metric. Time is a metric, of course, but parents and educators need to dig deeper to consider the content on the screen, the level of engagement of the child (or children) with the content, the appropriateness of the content for the individual child, and the opportunities for joint engagement. Educators know when “enough is enough” and it’s time to move a child from the block corner back into the room to interact with classmates, or when a child can’t get past a specific activity or material without a gentle nudge. The same is true for screen-based media – as adults and media mentors for young children we need to know when it’s time to transition to another materials, engage with other children, go outside to play, etc. The think about digital devices is that they have on and off switches, so it is the adult’s role to dermic when it is on and when it is off. I can’t come to that decision point simply by counting minutes on the screen any more than minutes spent reading a book or finger painting provides a reliable gauge for when it has ben long enough.

  14. Teachers are crucial to young children’s learning. Unfortunately, research shows that many early childhood teachers are not well prepared to teach STEM to young children in developmentally appropriate ways: they lack an adequate grounding in relevant STEM knowledge, and in pedagogical strategies that support the learning of that knowledge, they lack access to professional development opportunities in STEM (Brenneman, 2010) and they lack access to high quality resources that can help all students achieve standards-based STEM learning outcomes in a rapidly changing educational landscape (Tu, 2006).  In addition, many adults, including educators, underestimate what young children are capable of learning and therefore may not provide many opportunities for children to make sense of numbers, patterns, and relationships, or to interact with the scientific phenomena or practices that set the stage for later STEM learning.  

    Giving teachers access to relevant and developmentally appropriate content, supporting their understanding of STEM within early learning settings, and providing them with models of how to engage young learners in STEM experiences that can lay a foundation for later math, science, engineering and technology learning can all be supported through well-planned and structured uses of technology as both an instructional support for children and as a professional development or modeling tool for educators and other adults spending time with young children. Study findings point to learning gains made by educators and parents with regard to understanding the kinds of math activities appropriate for young children, understanding how to engage children in math activities in non-school environments that result from models provided by digital media, and with how comfortable adults are with supporting children with math activities, (Pasnik & Llorente, 2013).  When technology is designed with both children and adults in mind, and with careful attention paid to learning content, adults and children can both benefit.  However these outcomes are only possible when technology is implemented in ways that build on what we know about young children, and about the adults who work and care for them.

    Because teachers are essential to any early learning environment, the development of digital resources for early learners must be structured to:
    • Acknowledge the crucial role teachers play as mediators of digital experiences (for example, providing guidance for adults about a particular resource, or learning goal, so that it can be reinforced by an adult during off-line discussion and activities)
    • Recognize and integrate the needs of adults as well as children into content (for example, integrating models of dialogue between adults and children in ways that call out specific aspects such as asking clarifying questions or re-stating an opinion)
    • Provide resources that help teachers interpret and apply educational standards that reflect our growing understanding of what children are capable of learning. (For example, in Chicago, we are providing professional development to general education and special education teachers in grades K–5 to significantly increase their capacity to help all students achieve standards-based learning outcomes in mathematics. In Massachusetts we are working with teachers across the state to integrate computational thinking into science and mathematics learning in grades 1–6.)
    • Support early learning and elementary school teachers with STEM pedagogy and content knowledge through professional development opportunities that fit the unique needs of early learning professionals. (For example, early childhood educators, particularly those working in lower-income communities, often lack financial resources to cover costs for PD (Bueno, Darling-Hammond, & Gonzales, 2010) and nearly half score at the lowest levels of proficiency on adult literacy measures (Kaestle, Campbell, Finn, Johnson, & Mikulecky, 2001). Effective professional development models that are disseminated via digital media, draw on visual and auditory presentation of information, and that can be accessed asynchronously may support this population of teachers more fully than traditional professional development efforts.
    • Continue to develop and study models of research-practice collaboration to improve student learning of STEM in the early grades using interactive mobile technologies.

  15. The Need to Support STEM learning for All Children

    The digital divide in STEM is just one piece of the broader divide in opportunity among the nation’s children. With 45% of children in the United States living in homes that are low income (Jiang, Jiang, Ekono, & Skinner, 2016) the lack of access to the kinds of resources that might support exposure to STEM-related content is widespread and pervasive. Our current policies and limited programs support this divide in multiple ways:
    • High quality preschool is unavailable for large numbers of families across the country, with only 29% of 4 year olds enrolled in a prekindergarten program (NIEER, 2016).
    • When children have access to preschool programs they are unlikely to engage in science learning, and have fewer opportunities to learn science and math than other readiness skills such as language and literacy during their preschool day (Brenneman, Stevenson-Boyd, & Frede, 2009; Greenfield et al., 2009; Early et al., 2010).
    • Early learning settings frequently lack devices or connectivity to the internet which might otherwise enable early childhood educators and children to draw on digital resources.
    • As noted above, early childhood educators lack access to instructional resources designed for early learners in science (NAEYC, 2002.
    • Early childhood educators often have minimal or no access to pre-service and in-service instruction or professional development to support the teaching and learning of science (Brenneman, 2010).
    Educators, researchers and policy makers who spend time in early learning settings see these challenges played out on a daily basis and recognize that they are all tied to a single driving need to provide high quality early learning experiences to every child. In order to do this we must build school-home-community partnerships that give all children the opportunity to engage in authentic scientific explorations and mathematical thinking both as areas of study in their own right, and as components in a holistic approach to children learning which does  not segregate experience into content area. As educators we must create spaces where children can experience STEM in the arts, in reading, and in the community.  This includes exposing all children to the concepts, vocabulary and experiences that accompany strong and developmentally appropriate STEM activities and preparing their teachers to support this endeavor. Technology can support this goal, but only with considerable effort to insure that widespread access is a reality, and that high quality content that aligns with learning goals and children’s developmental trajectories is consistently available.

  16. Considerations for Strengthening Early STEM Learning

    In addition to the early STEM teaching and learning recommendations we made in other comments, here is a broader set of considerations that grow out of our organization’s decades of work at local, state and federal levels:

    Make high-quality early learning synonymous with high quality early STEM learning.
    Good early learning is STEM learning; they should not be separated or isolated. Children experience the world as a whole, and early childhood educational experiences should not force that whole into isolated pieces. Instead we should build on the opportunities that technology can offer to support an inclusive approach to STEM across all fields including the arts, literacy and social studies. And we should use technology to contribute to children’s language and vocabulary development across all fields by providing strong models and contexts for language use that reaches children and the adults in their lives.

    Create cohesion and consistency at the federal level.
    The Office of Special Education Programs, the National Science Foundation, the Administration for Children and Families, as well as programs authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act, each have specific priorities related to young children and STEM. Moving forward, it will be important for federal agencies to have a coherent frame that supports the appropriate use of technology to support young children’s learning rather than taking separate, or worse, fragmented approaches.

    Draw from strong, existing models of early STEM teaching and learning, including the high-profile Ready to Learn program and innovate R&D grants.
    Much of our current early STEM work emphasizes the role that adults play in mediating young children’s use of digital games and videos. We try to reflect this approach to technology in our research, and also in any kind of guidance we provide to educators. Through the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn Program and a $15 million program of research, for example, we have the opportunity to help PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting create better services for young children and their families, especially in communities where there are high concentrations of poverty (Pasnik, Llorente, Hupert & Moorthy, 2016). Likewise, with National Science Foundation grants and with funding from private foundations, like the Heising-Simons Foundation, we are identifying developmentally appropriate strategies and tools for using technology and media to support STEM learning among children in low-income communities that historically have had less support for early engagement with STEM content and practices. (Orr, 2016).

    Move the conversation away from screen time toward quality STEM learning with technology.
    The amount of time young children spend with technology is well documented (Rideout & Saphir, 2013). It is important to change the conversation about whether children should have screen time to instead focusing on the importance of providing young children with equal opportunities to have access to high-quality educational technologies that support STEM learning.

    Commit to equity completely.
    As early as kindergarten, there are painfully real achievement gaps between white and minority children and between children from higher- and low-income households, but we need not accept these gaps as inevitable. Our organization has a special focus on meeting the needs of children from disadvantaged communities and of dual language learners, on engaging and supporting families, and on building the capacity of educators and communities to sustain improvements. A federal i3 development grant, for example, has given us the opportunity to use the engaging context of science to support the literacy and academic success of young English language learners. Working with Hartford Public Schools and the Connecticut Science Center, we are providing 100 pre-K and first-grade teachers and coaches with professional development, and engaging 2,000 families in their children’s early science and literacy learning through classroom explorations, family events, and family “toolkits” to extend science exploration at home.

    EDC is a nonprofit organization that creates and delivers effective programs, services, materials, and products to improve learning and teaching, health and human development, and economic opportunity for people of all ages worldwide. We welcome opportunities to leverage our existing networks to support current and emerging early STEM efforts; these networks include:
    — Three national training and technical assistance centers funded by the Federal Office of Head Start: the National Center for Linguistic and Cultural Responsiveness, the National Center on Program Management and Fiscal Operations, and the National Center on Health. Through these centers, EDC promotes Head Start teachers’ and leaders’ use of research and evidence-based practices to enhance services to children and families.
    — We’re also the managing institution for the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), a U.S. Department of Education Comprehensive Center that provides training and technical assistance to early education specialists in state departments of education nationwide. CEELO put together an annotated bibliography that highlights specific resources related to technology in early learning (Clarke Brown, 2015).
    — The Early Childhood Research Alliance, part of the Regional Educational Laboratory-Northeast & Islands, is a research‐to-practice alliance bringing together stakeholders in the united pursuit of improving early childhood programs and children’s outcomes.

  17. Here are a few more curated resources that can help shape the conversation as you consider how best to provide guidance to educators

    Center on Media and Child Health & CMCH Research Database

    Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University (See the report, Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology)

    Annotated Bibliography: Using Technology in Early Childhood Classrooms, CEELO, 2015

    Exploring Play and Creativity in Pre-Schoolers’ Use of Apps, Lydia Plowman, TAP, University of Sheffield

    Using Early Childhood Education to Bridge the Digital Divide ( and 5 related reports) RAND Corporation Reports, 2014

    Using technology appropriately in the preschool classroom, Ann Epstein, HighScope, 2015

    Young children (0-8) and digital technology. JRC Science and Policy Reports, Office of the European Union, 2015

    Hirsh-Pasek, K., Zosh, J.M., Golinkoff, R.M., Gray, J.H., Robb, M.B., & Kaufman, J. 2015. Putting education in “educational” apps: Lessons from the science of learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16: 3-34.

    Parette, H. P., & Blum. C. 2014. Using flexible participation in technology-supported, universally-designed preschool activities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46(3), 60-67.

    Roseberry, S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. 2013. Skype me! Socially contingent interactions help toddlers learn language. Child Development, 0, 1-15. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12166

    Wartella, E. 2015. Educational apps: What we do and do not know, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16: 1-2, DOI: 10.1177/1529100615578662

  18. Comments from CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative

    1. Recommendations for screen media use in early childhood vary. It is difficult for educators, parents and caregivers to make informed decisions about which content is effective and how and when to use it. For example, how can educators, parents and caregivers best determine what content is age-appropriate?

    Parents and caregivers need high appeal and user-friendly information about what constitutes quality media, and how to find trusted sources of educationally-sound content that is designed especially for their children. Organizations that rate children’s educational content – like Parents Choice and Common Sense Media – play important roles. In addition, parents and caregivers should look for something that identifies the creator of the content to see that it comes from an organization they trust like PBS and local public media stations. For example, consider this background information on families and trust (i.e.

    The key to cultivating a trusting relationship with families and their children is through the creation of highly engaging, evidence-based, and developmentally appropriate content for young children. Plus it is important to help parents, educators, and other caregivers understand their vital role as mediators of content used by their children.

    It is also important for families and caregivers to understand how top-notch educational media producers from the world of public media use both formative and impact research to intentionally focus and maximize the content’s learning opportunities for children. This research plays a big part in public media’s iterative content development process, and helps assure that the content is genuinely engaging and meeting the needs of the children for which it is intended.

    In addition, it might be valuable for parents and educators to understand what goes on “behind the curtains” when it comes to producing quality educational media. For example, PBS KIDS develops learning frameworks in partnership with early learning content advisors so that content aligns with nationally recognized standards, and also helps children’s media producers in their efforts to create age-appropriate content. The PBS KIDS frameworks for Mathematics, Literacy-ELA, Science, Social Studies, and Social and Emotional Learning provide guidance to producers on creating content that builds the skills, practices, and habits of mind that children should be developing at ages 2 through 8.

    There is also a very helpful tool called the PBS Parents Child Development Tracker ( that is designed to help parents gain insights on their children’s stages of growth so they know what milestones to expect and ways they can track their children’s growth on the timeline.

    2. How can we make it easier for educators, parents and caregivers to select applications that are high quality and proven effective? What research gaps do we need to address to inform these types of decisions?

    One of the key ways to make it easier to select apps that are high quality and proven effective is for independent researchers to evaluate the efficacy of these products and to ensure that the educational claims that the producers make are backed up by evidence.

    As an example, the Department of Education’s Ready To Learn grant to CPB and PBS enables public media to commission research to evaluate the efficacy of math and literacy content, and the findings from this research have illustrated that both children and their parents make gains in learning new math skills, are more confident in knowing how to support math learning at home, and practice math more in everyday life. As parents and caregivers make choices about the media they use with their children, they can surely make more informed media choices based on this kind of research result which offers a quality “stamp of approval.”

    Additionally, the PBS KIDS learning analytics platform, newly-developed through a U.S. Department of Education Ready To Learn grant to CPB and PBS, uses learning analytics embedded in the content to help parents identify the skills in which their kids excel, and determine which skills require additional support, practice, and exposure to other games that are available to boost needed skill areas. As more apps are developed using this type of analytics, our educational media field will want to use various forms of communication and social media to inform families about these features and how they can get involved.

    In looking ahead to gaps in research and future opportunities, the fields of early learning and children’s media would benefit from knowing more about how best to support families in selecting quality media for their children. For example, what types of messages or visualized examples will resonate with parents? How do parents from diverse cultural, language, and socio-economic backgrounds engage with educationally-sound content, including their interest in using real-time, embedded learning analytics to support their children’s learning through media? What does this usage look like? How do parents play an active role in influencing or mediating their children’s experiences, or not? The field could also benefit from more longitudinal studies that track both child and parent gains resulting from community-based, media-rich interventions, such as Ready To Learn’s upcoming interventions that will take place through local public media stations and other community partners and STEM providers. What community approaches best engage and keep families involved? What are the short-term and long-term impacts for both children and their families as a result of STEM-focused, dual-generation participation?

    3. How do we effectively support professional development (PD) for educators to facilitate the effective use of education technologies to close STEM opportunity gaps in early learning settings? How can education technologies help provide effective PD?

    An important part of supporting early educators in their early STEM education efforts is to provide them with inspiring examples of fellow teachers who are pioneering in this area. This can be done via traditional face-to-face professional development, as well as through media-rich virtual experiences. Early educators and caregivers might also benefit from working “through and with” local stakeholders, including public media stations and other community STEM providers who are adept at offering media-rich experiences to teachers including professional development workshops, webinar offerings, and online courses that visualize these best-practices in early STEM.

    For example, the Department of Education through its Ready To Learn partnership with CPB and PBS has created free Teaching Tips Modules with Boston University’s School of Education (BU-SED). These resources provide lesson plans and videos on the effective integration of PBS KIDS math, science, and literacy content into classroom lessons. The partnership with BU-SED has also led to the creation of online and on-campus courses designed to support the use of technology and children’s media content in preschool, kindergarten and early elementary classrooms.

    Additionally, upcoming public media collaborations with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), as well other Ready To Learn engagement advisors and their respective organizations such as the National Head Start Association, the Center for Children in Poverty, the National Center for Families Learning, Parents as Teachers, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, and others, will enable more early learning educators to gain exposure to a diverse collection of high quality STEM resources and role models to inform their early Science classroom lessons.

    4. How can we help media developers address the needs of diverse students and those with special needs to increase student engagement, and to promote social emotional learning?

    Three of the most effective ways to support children’s content creators in addressing the needs of diverse children and those with special needs are to: 1) conduct focus groups and appeal testing with the target audiences to inform content design; 2) engage with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) experts to ensure that content is responsive to, and accessible for ALL children including, but not limited to children with learning and physical disabilities, English Language Learners (ELLs), and gifted children; and 3) utilize learning frameworks that help content creators understand developmental learning progressions and map their content to age-appropriate skills, practices, and habits of mind with social emotional learning as a natural part of children’s media storylines, character experiences, and themes.

    5. How can we bridge the opportunity gaps between STEM education, literacy, and the arts? What, if any, is the role of technology and screen media in these efforts?

    The best way to utilize technology and screen media to help bridge the opportunity gaps between STEM education, literacy and the arts is to develop high-appeal and high-quality transmedia content for the whole child. Through the richness of PBS KIDS characters, as well as spirited and humorous storylines, talented children’s producers creatively weave and integrate these critical disciplines together. This makes for highly-engaging and connected learning experiences in which characters role model science and mathematical practices, visualize difficult to understand concepts, and express powerful vocabulary and communication skills.

    There is also tremendous opportunity to capitalize on the maker-movement and actively engage children, families, and educators in the imagining and co-creation of content. As an example, the PBS KIDS Scratch Jr. app has recently been launched with the goal of providing hands-on STEM and coding experiences directly to children and caring adults that also involves creative thinking, interpersonal and group communication, storytelling, and personal artistic expression.

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