STEM Education Summit
Silke Bethke, John Nyagah and Catherine Squire Blatti: Supporting families of young children through STEM education
Adapting approaches to teaching and learning while off-campus during physical distancing and engaging young children from home in enquiry-based STEM activities (via MS Teams).
During Covid-19 families were encouraged to extend these explorations further at home with the support of teachers where the children were involved in utilising the ‘cycle of research’. Collaborative documentation of the children’s learning encouraged active involvement of parents in these STEM activities which ultimately redefined their role as an educational partner.
About the Speakers
Silke Bethke is Head of Preschool at the German International School Sydney, which offers a bilingual early childhood education for children between three and five years of age and which has a strong focus on inquiry-based STEM education. Silke is an accredited Early Childhood Educator who completed her formal qualifications in Germany. She has extensive work experience in early education settings, both in Germany and in Australia.
Diploma of Education – Early Childhood / GER. military FHR Social Pedagogy – School related Social Work Services – Restorative Justice
Catherine Squire Blatti
Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood)
Watch full video below
Peter Dalmaris: Hi, everyone. And welcome to Silke Bethke, John Nyagah, and Catherine Squire Blatti from the German International School in Sydney, who will deliver a talk on how they responded to the COVID-19 shutdown in support of their students and their families.
Peter Dalmaris: This talk is part of the STEM Education Summit, a unique event where educators from around the world come together to share the best insights on the technologies, methodologies, and philosophies they used to teach and inspire the next generation of amazing humans.
Peter Dalmaris: I'm Peter Damaris, an Online Educator, Author of Maker Education Revolution, and Co-Founder of Tech Explorations.
Peter Dalmaris: Silke, John, and Catherine are all members of the preschool at the German International School in Sydney. The GISS is part of the German School Abroad Network and also a not-for-profit Australian independent school, and offers a bilingual preschool program with a strong focus on STEM education.
Peter Dalmaris: Silke is Head of Preschool at the GISS. As a pedagogue, Silke is passionate about facilitating learning in ways that empower children, gives them choices, as well as a voice that helps them develop self-efficacy.
Peter Dalmaris: John draws from more than 20 years of experience in the military and education, which allows him to keep up a high standard of education and social pedagogy. He's a Project Manager with expertise in developing individual learning models and helping students in self-development.
Peter Dalmaris: Catherine is passionate about inquiry-based learning and involving children in scientific investigations that encourage them to develop the metacognitive skills. She's worked and learned in international schools in London and Zurich, and completed study tours in Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy.
Peter Dalmaris: In this talk, the GISS preschool team members will discuss how they developed and deployed new approaches to teaching and learning while off-campus, during physical distancing, and engaging young kids isolated in their homes in inquiry-based STEM activities. Silke, John, and Catherine, thank you so much for joining me. How are you today?
Silke Bethke: Thank you for having us. We're well. Thank you.
John Nyagah: Thank you.
Catherine Squire Blatti: Thank you.
Peter Dalmaris: You all look good. And we are doing this conversation at the preschool, at the actual place where everything is happening. And the kids have gone home, of course. But this is where you are now.
Silke Bethke: This is where the action is, yes.
Peter Dalmaris: Where the action takes place. That's great.
Catherine Squire Blatti: [Inaudible].
Peter Dalmaris: This is just one of the corners of the preschool. And, of course, there's a lot happening elsewhere. But I can see the background is filled with the work that your students have produced, and we're probably going to get into that a bit later.
Peter Dalmaris: So, I've got a question to begin with, I know that you have a lot in store for us and you prepared your presentation, but I wanted to talk specifically about preschools and the unique environment that our preschool offers through its students.
Peter Dalmaris: So, preschool students present unique challenges and opportunities in the best of times. But right now we are going through a crisis. We're probably over the other side of the crisis. Things seem to be getting back to normal. But during a crisis, those opportunities and challenges are amplified. So, I'd like to take a few minutes in the beginning of this presentation to talk about some of the challenges and opportunities that are unique to preschools.
Silke Bethke: Yes. During the physical distancing and isolation time in COVID-19, we were faced with a really big challenge compared to the rest of the school because our students can't read and write yet. And they are used to having a lot of sensory experiences here at preschool, it's a play-based environment. And one of the underlying beliefs we have that it is really important to have strong relationships with the children.
Silke Bethke: That's one of the foundations we have. It's practice of relationships. And if the children are not here, if they're not here in the environment, how can we sustain those relationships? How can we maintain what we have even though we don't have physical access to the children? And that was the particular challenge for our section of the school.
Silke Bethke: We always say, "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship," which is a quote by Dr. James Comer, and we based everything we did on that notion. So, we made contact to the families. We invited them using various channels depending on what they need, and invited them to tell us or share with us their concerns, their worries, how they wanted to proceed within their learning.
Silke Bethke: And science, STEM Education, took on a very particular role in all of that because we have a strong focus on STEM education here in our city. And we used that as a means of getting the children to think deeper, to explore with all their senses.
Silke Bethke: So, moving to off-campus learning and using digital technology as part of that, for us, it was very clear that it had to be connected to the children individually. It couldn't just be a generic information. It had to be something that was still maintaining the relationships we have with them.
Peter Dalmaris: Silke, sorry to interrupt you. There are two very important things I have picked up from what you just said. So, the relationship is the most important thing, I guess, here. Because of the lack of independence, the kids can't read or write yet, so they learn through the mentors, through the teachers in this case. And in the absence of physical proximity with the kids, you had to buy in from the parents. In a way, the parents had to replace you as a teacher, but still be guided in order to deliver the curriculum.
Peter Dalmaris: But then, the curriculum - that's the second thing that I took from what you said - cannot just be information. It's got to be something that is meaningful to the children. And that's where you draw inspiration from STEM projects or STEM style education. Some thing that you always do anyway in the preschool with the kids present. But then, you had to take that into a different mode of delivery through a network or remote delivery. Does that sound right? I'm always rephrasing things that I just learned.
Silke Bethke: Yes. That is very true. And it's not just that we delivered through digital technology, it also had to be individualized because the children are in a mixed age group. We have three to five year old children, they have different interests. Not all of them have the same previous experiences. So, we have to differentiate a little bit.
Silke Bethke: So, we had to find a balance between giving the children provocations, but also listening to what they came up with in order to extend that further so it became meaningful to them. And as part of that, also involve the families in ways that it could assist the children extend that learning further.
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, the challenge there was also to try and find a way of doing that. And when all of this started up and the children stopped coming, we found out that the rest of the school were using Microsoft Teams.
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, I was able to set up each preschool child with an account, and set up a platform where the families could all communicate with each other, a platform where we could save things for them to be using and put on videos, and it was also a platform for us where we were able to do live sessions with the children. And that was where a lot of the science came in as well.
Peter Dalmaris: What was it like for the families?
John Nyagah: So, I guess for the families, there were two areas where they were challenged. And one was understanding the technology they now have to use presenting to their children, being next to them because, as both Silke and Catherine said, the preschool aged children yet haven't developed reading or writing.
John Nyagah: But as well haven't developed, let's say, media technology that they can sit, stand, or hold a phone, or be aware that the medium in front of them, just in terms of the technology itself, that functions that way alone. So, the parents needed to be with them in the same time when they were communing into the preschool.
John Nyagah: So, when we're doing experiments with them or when we're communicating with them, it wasn't just the child, so the parents actually have to be available. So, I think that was one challenge for the parents knowing that they can't just place their children in front of a computer and walk away. Because of that age group, they still have to be somehow close to their children. Hence, all the other directions when it comes to, say, media usage where we guide parents to be with their children just cognitively knowing how to use that.
John Nyagah: I guess the other thing was, in the technology, once you would have a challenge of, let's say, the connection or freezing a picture that a child in that age quickly be frustrated, that would also frustrate the parents because they couldn't help in that moment. They would try to have the connection to us at the preschool, so that would be another challenge to, let's say, maintain a focus for themselves and for the child.
John Nyagah: Worst case scenario, we would ring them through different media and say, "We're still there. Just log in," or we call back. So, just setting all up, I think, that was a big challenge.
John Nyagah: Through the process of them going through STEM, most of the parents understood what was needed to be set up. Most of the parents then were very engaged and had then no troubles having their phones ready if the connection broke off. Having an idea at what time, what meeting, what happened, so they were even able to set up their children for that meeting. Or even have older siblings joining them because our meetings were more fun.
John Nyagah: So, I think in the progress of using the whole media and being a part of opportunity for the parents, they were able to grow into that opportunity phase of using those challenges. And most of them, they were actually very engaged. So, they were happy to log in. They were happy to take calls in their meetings.
Catherine Squire Blatti: It's really [inaudible] for preschool families as well, because here at our particular preschool, having the children being in front of screens is not something that we would normally want the children to do. So, we like them to have a lot of hands-on experiences. And so, that kind of platform was all a little bit strange and weird.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And I think for us to try to find ways that we were able to present things to the children that would keep them engaged as well without us actually being there, but being on the other side of the computer.
Silke Bethke: And, for us, it was very important as well that it's not just a one-way communication, that we come up with some kind of activity and they are passive participants. We wanted to have this two-way communication, and not just us and the individual families, but the children amongst each other as well and the parents amongst each other. So, that was something we very deliberately facilitated in all of that.
Silke Bethke: Because of the large group size, we limited it to smaller groups, so we have several sessions throughout the day. And as part of these sessions, we make sure that we always had several families on one laptop - and we had several laptops - they would be able to see each other. They could communicate to each other. We use the laptop to show them they are watching as well, say hello. Parents came and said hello.
Silke Bethke: And then, when we did our provocations and initiated some science experiments, and children came up with an idea or [inaudible]. They share them with the other families as well. So, ideas bounced off each other, not just us giving them up to the families, but working together as a group in a collaborative partnership.
Silke Bethke: And as part of that, the families continued activities we had traded with them at home. And they took different directions because they all had different ideas, they had different resources at home which they included. So, it was always coming back to us. We invited them to share what they were doing at home with us so that we could share with others.
Silke Bethke: And that's how this project evolved further. There is a continuous going on and on. It didn't just end there when the preschool session was over. The children experimented further. They sent us photos or film clips and comments. We shared them on the Team's platform, so everybody could see that. And other families said, "Oh, wow. That's a really good idea. We'll try that as well." So, it was a real learning community.
Peter Dalmaris: So, you built a virtual school, to say, on the cloud, but it almost resembled the way that you work face to face in the classroom with a lot of collaboration, hands-on projects, and the additional benefit that now the parents are part of that hands-on as well. I guess you'll give us more details about how that happened in your presentation that is still coming up.
Peter Dalmaris: I've got one more question that I want to drill into, though, at this point, and that has to do with the activities or the curriculum, I'm not sure if that's a word that you use to describe. I wanted to ask whether there was any difference in the kind of activities that you would normally do in the classroom with your kids present versus doing social distancing in terms of the learning outcomes that you wanted to achieve.
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, the only differences that we had to think of, it was more to do with the materials, actually, because we had to think of ways of presenting science to the children that would keep them there. Because, usually, when they're here in preschool, when we're hypothesizing or we're saying, "Will this particular object over here float or sink or will it dissolve," or depending what we're doing, they'll come up with ideas and go and grab things.
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, when we were first presenting - and I think there might be a slide where there's a picture of me doing the dissolving substances -
Peter Dalmaris: Let me see the slide. I'm very curious.
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, here, we deliberately chose to only focus on things the families might have available at home. Although at the time, because of COVID, a lot of parents were saying, "Oh, that's baking powder, where did you get that from?" Or, "That's flour, I'm short of that." So, saying, "Oh. Well, if you need all these things, you now where to come." We've got [inaudible]. But we stuck with sand, baking powder, flour, and salt. And then, we kept it short as well because we were dealing with the children's attention spans as well.
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, we were just asking them - we had these materials there with the hypothesis - "What do you think is going to happen if I mix this substance with the water?" And then, we would document their responses and then put what we'd done with them into learning stories.
John Nyagah: So, I think not really much changed in the way we would approach a child's understanding to the material we want to present to them. I think a challenge was, obviously, having a child on the other side anything could distract them or the attention not to ask various series of questions - we're not doing it anyway. But if we know the child isn't responding yet, that we can't just show the glass in front of them, the camera wouldn't trigger anything.
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, when we set up a session, we, I would say, almost did the same thing, just with the knowledge about that there will be distraction and that we won't be able to have them in a circle, and then everyone stand up and implement something to get that focus back in.
John Nyagah: We do have a warm up. Sometimes we do have a cool down at the end. So, it's not just the the idea to look at knowledge at one point, rather the whole connection with our body with what the idea of the experiment is.
John Nyagah: When we look at water experiment, how can they become meaningful to us? What does dissolve mean? How would it taste? I think at one point we even got a puppet in because we knew that the children will also respond to a puppet being part of our experiment.
Silke Bethke: It's very convenient because the puppet could ask silly questions or do something wrong, but the children would all go, "Oh, no. You can't do that."
Peter Dalmaris: Oh, I see. So, the puppet was actually taking part in whatever was happening virtually. It wasn't just sitting there.
Silke Bethke: And in between, also, when we were doing the experiment, we could say, "Everybody go and find this at home. Do you see anything else you want to include?" So, they were active. They weren't just sitting in front of a screen as passive participants. We also encourage to actively do something in front of them so that they have the life experience.
Peter Dalmaris: There you go. What's his name?
John Nyagah: Alki. So, Alki, she should sit here, actually, in the smaller chair over there.
Peter Dalmaris: We'll put his name on as a presenter.
John Nyagah: Yes. And then, we would wear occasionally some of our signs, [inaudible].
Silke Bethke: A lab coat.
Peter Dalmaris: It's really good.
John Nyagah: Just to pick up on children's fun, so that science is fun and the experiment itself can be exciting. And most of the experiments, we use a reflection of what children know, what children use, they use sand, they know salt. They have an understanding to talk about baking powder when it comes to bake something, a cake. So, the material itself is not so unfamiliar.
John Nyagah: But what we are looking in is how can the children learn about the observation, how can the children learn about -
Catherine Squire Blatti: Hypothesizing.
John Nyagah: Hypothesizing. And asking the question looking into a deeper sense of the material in front of them. And with only having a computer and the network connectivity, that's, again, a challenge where you have to go past the challenge and have to find creative ways to make it still meaningful and talking about water.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And without them here, then we were able to take the laptops as well and walk around the preschool and find a piece of Lego.
Peter Dalmaris: So, you show activity at your end, you're not just talking too.
Catherine Squire Blatti: Through the computer, "What do you think would happen with the Lego if I mixed it with the water?" So, [inaudible].
Peter Dalmaris: So, what I understand is (A) you did not compromise with the learning objectives. The kids learned a lot, but they did have fun and you took advantage, I guess, or adapted to the new way of delivering since the kids could not be there with you. You did your adaptation, but the kids learned.
Peter Dalmaris: I'm going to stop asking questions now because I know you've prepared things that you want to talk about. So, let's do that next without any questions from me.
Catherine Squire Blatti: We like the questions.
Silke Bethke: We like the questions.
Peter Dalmaris: I'm going to jump in later, but I'd like you to -
Silke Bethke: I wanted to say, for us, the digital technology is a vehicle to assist us with education. It does not replace the interaction. And that was really important for us. It's a vehicle. It's there. It's like a tool we use with the children and their families to connect, to learn, to document, to record things.
Silke Bethke: But it's not a replacement. It's not the vehicle that actually delivers the education. It's still the human being behind the screen on the other side that is connecting with the children and collaborating with families within their learning. It's really important for us.
Peter Dalmaris: I guess I have another question, but I've written it down. I'm going to ask you in the end. I want you to continue with your presentation.
John Nyagah: So, Ensuring Continuity of Education. So, using it as a vessel. It was interesting that the parents had the opportunity as well to use it as a vessel, and to come up with a vehicle with an understanding of this is what my child just showed interest in, and I want to share this with their educators.
John Nyagah: So, as much as we did our level of education, many of the parents understood the way we presented, the way we worked because they were there in the same space. As I said before, they didn't just walked out. They were there.
John Nyagah: And very often our parents, they are motivated to have an understanding of how they can approach their children to ask questions, to extend their learning. We know that learning at preschool not always can be the same as the learning at home because it's a different environment. The set up might be different at home. But when it came to this phase where the parents were with the children in front of the computer, very often they would have situations like in the bathroom or in the kitchen or in other areas.
John Nyagah: I had received a short story, a short video, short glimpse of the situation at the breakfast table where a child was just mixing his cereal and the drink, and suddenly it became an experiment at home. Where then the parents now is, not saying imitating, but the parent is picking up on our nature of asking questions and engaging with the child, rather than saying "What have you done with your water? Do you want to drink it?" It becomes a scientific question.
Peter Dalmaris: You've been training teachers as well.
John Nyagah: I think what happened is that because they were there in the same space and they could see the way we were engaging with the children, very often I was getting the information back from the parents. And with their videos and their observation, it felt like that the parents really wanted to live up to a new level of understanding how to communicate questions with their children.
Silke Bethke: We got a lot of feedback from families who really appreciated what we're doing. They said, "Oh, we understand that much better now what you're doing and what you're trying to achieve." Or they suddenly realized, "Oh, wow. Even in small day to day activities at home, there's so much learning potential," which they hadn't really been aware of or never really considered to that extent. So, that was a real opportunity that this challenge has presented us with that all our pedagogical work was much more experienced by families directly.
Peter Dalmaris: So, I guess in your memory pre-crisis, do you think that parents were involved with the preschool education of the kids in the way that they did over the last few weeks?
Silke Bethke: I think before all this happened, they appreciated it a lot. We usually share written reflections that include photographs and dialog of the children with the families on a daily basis. So, they sort of read and understood a little bit, but they were not actively involved, and that's a very different level.
Silke Bethke: During the presentations and the experiences we had in physical distancing, the families were not just observers or who heard what had happened throughout the day. They were part of it. And that made them, not just more appreciative, they grew from that.
Silke Bethke: And we found there were a number of families who really enjoyed this. They were learning themselves. They were contributing with many different ideas. Maybe you could explain a bit about the catapult experiment, because that was one really good example of how families became very creative with this or everyone on a different approach. Do you want to share that?
John Nyagah: Very often there's some very simple way to challenge someone, to give someone, not work, but just to challenge where they -
Peter Dalmaris: Challenge is a good word.
John Nyagah: ... where they can just start thinking about what's challenging me. And what we did was, we just presented few small tools to show the function of a catapult. But not building a big catapult. It was just a ruler and DUPLO blocks just showing how something would move another object. And then, we called it a catapult. So, we would give it a name, it does have a function that makes something fly.
John Nyagah: And, now, the challenge was then to build something, to go into the production of creating something which has the function of a catapult. But then, also, giving them the second challenge of, not just to make the object just to fly upwards, rather than to try to propel it forward so that it becomes, not just a functional thing, but rather I want to achieve something. So, with a specific goal at the end.
John Nyagah: Now, what happened was that, everyone was given the same task as such, but some families went straight to Google and try to find something which was simple explained. From then, I even heard at one point that the children, again, wanted to know what is a catapult. So, it's not even enough to just find something in the internet. You have to go back and forward explaining.
John Nyagah: Another family went back to Bunnings and bought things to create their own catapult. And another family really tried to do from the small step, from the ruler, towards working to the actual task or the question.
John Nyagah: Now, all this family at one point - because we are all different - really presented a different approach working towards the challenge. And then, they came back with feedback. And at the end, most of the challenges were coped in a very similar way. Most of them had to ask the question of how can I make it fly more forward? Most of the families realized that their children won't be able to build small, fiddly, tiny catapults. As parents, they need to support them, but then step back enough so that learning can occur.
John Nyagah: So, this fine balance where we knew it's, one, to give a challenge to build a catapult. But then, the second, as the promoter of learning, the parent to also understand that this challenge is a learning challenge. It's not just the challenge to have a catapult, rather to teach your child something was very interesting.
John Nyagah: So, I received videos from the families and some families during the process of coping with the challenge and trying to investigate ways to get over that challenge as a task, they saw themselves and realized that the way they had to ask question to come to a certain end, again, told them how to work with experimenting, hypothesizing how it worked.
John Nyagah: Some would categorize, "My catapult made something fly this and that." So, the children then started to categorize and say, "This was a one. This was a two. This was a three." Or, "I build three catapults and my favorite one was this." So, rather than just having a challenge, thinking about the challenge, they started to categorize thinking about what was the value of what I just did.
John Nyagah: And it was interesting, the family who Googled it and made it fly, everything was, I would almost say, perfect. They have then the challenge to implement it into their daily life. So, how could they use that catapult? And they have chicken in their area and used it as a food launcher for the chicken barn. Which was hilarious, because they filmed it as well.
John Nyagah: And, obviously, when they're using the catapult with an object to fly, it will respond differently than the soft food. So, the soft food wasn't flying the way they thought, and that triggered the whole exploration around the catapult again.
John Nyagah: After COVID and the physical distancing, the child brought his catapult back and just demonstrated that he built it. It was not a trick. So, it just shows a little bit how the parents were involved, again, being in the exploration, but having a challenge motivated the parents at home to continue thinking and continue learning together with their children.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And that was the same with the water challenge as well. So, we set up before different provocations, I suppose, and then lots of different things started to come back to us, because we had asked parents to keep sending us photographs or videos or documentation of dialog, so that we could then put together what they were doing at home into learning stories.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And so, from the water one, we got all sorts of different examples - we can probably flip to those as well - where one particular family, they've made a bath bomb together. And then, the actual documentation that they sent me was a video of what happened when they put it into the water when the child was having a bath. So, all you see is the hand of the mother going with the bath bomb and then putting it into the bath. And then, you can hear in the audio, the child going, "Wow. Bubbles."
Catherine Squire Blatti: And she sent that as documentation. And then, we would put it into a learning story. And the role that we take on then as well is then giving the families implications of the learning that's occurring when they're doing that.
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, that was another way of guiding the families to see the sorts of different learning that's coming out of the different experiences that they're having, and where they're geared towards in terms of the outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework, which is the framework which we use for the early years in Australia.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And having that, then we can write implications for where the child's learning could go further, if they wanted to. It was always, if you have time, if you want to keep going with that kind of experimentation, we would offer ideas and suggestions of where they could keep going.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And, for us, it's been a great opportunity because the parents have really now become partners in the children's learning to an extent where we never thought we would ever be able to get them there, just because they're not on the premises when we're having preschool in session. And it's difficult. I mean, we wrote the reflections and, like Silke said, we send them out to the families.
Catherine Squire Blatti: But unless you, yourself, are involved in the process and knowing what to look at, you don't really get into that process. And having this opportunity, where the parents were sending us things and we were writing up their stories and sending them back to them, then they could see, "Oh, this is what we got out of that. And this is where we can go next." And that's the learning that occurred.
Peter Dalmaris: In just these two projects that you described, there's so much to learn as a teacher but even as a parent. Just reflecting on what I heard, I can see that another very challenging characteristic of teaching in a preschool, very young kids who can't read or write, I guess, everything has to be done as a project.
Peter Dalmaris: Because you can't just put them in front of a blackboard and start learning, and facts about geography, and facts about mathematics just to make no sense. So, you got to put projects in there. But the projects need to be challenging enough, but at the same time simple enough for a child that has never done something like this before to be able to do it. And then, for parents to be able to help.
Peter Dalmaris: And you talked about the balance of how much to give the child and how much you let the child explore themselves. So, it's a very fine balance, and then you have to keep rebalancing as the child is progressing. That's another very unique characteristic of a preschool environment.
Peter Dalmaris: It feels, to me, as the kids are getting older and more knowledgeable and becoming more independent, trying to find that fine balance becomes less important. But at the preschool level, it's extremely important, you have to be, as a parent and as a teacher, very well tuned to sensing how much you need to give versus how much to stand back and let the child do its thing and explore.
Silke Bethke: I believe you really have to know your children really well. You have to know what their strengths are, what their interests are, but also what ability level they have so that you can step in. We always have an overarching philosophy in everything we do. We help the children as little as possible, but as much as needed. And that's the balance you have to create, irrespective of what age they are.
Silke Bethke: If you help too much, they step back and let you do it, and that impacts negatively on the learning. But if you don't help enough, they give up. It's finding that balance. And in order to find it, you have to know the children.
Peter Dalmaris: Perfect. So, you've got the documentation there. When my kids will come into your preschool, that's the bit of the day that I actually enjoyed the most, reading the reflections because that showed these aha moments that the kids had. But, now, you've taken that and you've involved parents. Now, the parents, essentially, are writing this document by sending you the stories of what happened during the day.
Peter Dalmaris: How do you see this aspect of your work and the learnings that you have achieved from COVID-19 restrictions going forward? Have you thought how you can use these new skills that you have as a team and as parents going forward after COVID-19?
Catherine Squire Blatti: We have.
Peter Dalmaris: I thought so.
John Nyagah: So, in many ways the parents, I would say, understand what we're doing. Understand in the sense that they felt the reflection because they had a little bit to go through in those live sessions.
Silke Bethke: They lived it.
John Nyagah: They had to live it. So, some live sessions were 30 minutes. And then, once we got better, they became 40 minutes, 45 minutes. And what happened was that in some sessions - I remember actually a quite funny session - the restriction were a bit opening. And then, we were still doing signs with some families arriving, but then other families being at home. And the families at home, they were really waiting for the moment to be within the class to do a science exploration.
John Nyagah: The children who were there, because they experienced them at home through the computer, they were not stoked, but they were so happy to see them live. They were able to give so much information now, where, usually, in the past you had to ask them, what do you see or what do you observe. I would even say that they got better in it. They were able to put in a description of what they saw. They could see steam coming out of a kettle, clouds, or they would try to find ways to describe what they see.
John Nyagah: And it might come back to the challenge they had with the computer to really look closely at what happened and rethink and re-thought about the experience, so that when it goes back into a life experience, now, - when I do experiment with water and syringes last time - that they get better in understanding when I ask the question what do you see, to actually point out, "I see something coming in here, going over there."
John Nyagah: Instead of just being scientifically hoping to say the right thing, they just describe what they see. And from that, get so much information to then go back and evaluate their action. "Was it enough? If I did this successfully, would this happen?" Then, again, if I just keep all the measures the same - and some can predict - the volume, it will be the same because I just did the same.
John Nyagah: I think that helped a lot and sometimes wasn't there yet. Growing with the age, the way you explain it, obviously, it will come in anyway. But I think this got much better because of that.
Silke Bethke: And with that to the parents, I believe the families who went through this now, they've changed the way they collaborate with us. They've understood it. They've learned it. They've been contributing to the portfolios. And I think they will keep going with that, at least a large part of them if they have the time and the space, because they really value it.
Silke Bethke: The challenge for us now moving forward, the new families that come in have not yet experienced it. How can we maintain that? And that's going to be harder when everyone goes back to some kind of normality. And that's our challenge, I see, how can we retain that, without - hopefully, fingers crossed - another crisis.
Peter Dalmaris: Another crisis.
Silke Bethke: That things will get better. But how can we still keep the benefits going without the severe challenges and threats?
Catherine Squire Blatti: We've thought about it, but we don't have a solution.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. I guess it's something that you have to figure out over time, because nothing like a good crisis to force us to think in creative ways. And, again, from what you're saying, what I understand is that, not only your students did not lose any of the learning objectives and having fun while learning, but they learned a lot of things that normally they would not have, like attention and focus on computer screen, not doing a session. So, it taught them something that otherwise they would not have learned and experienced.
Peter Dalmaris: And if I understand right, they're very eager and have an increased appetite for more STEM projects and education happening. But this time not through the screen. They want to do it in-person. So, you make them thirsty when it comes to knowledge. So, this is amazing.
Peter Dalmaris: What I want to ask next, some pieces of advice for teachers in other preschools, perhaps, or teachers even in older years of school, of some of the lessons that you've learned that you believe will be beneficial to other teachers across the years, either from the tools that you used, the way that you were able to engage families and your students, and even skills that you have gained from social distancing that you'll be able to reuse in the classroom once all the students are back in the classroom.
Silke Bethke: I think one aspect that might also apply for children who are older is that, as a teacher, you have to reflect on your role, what it is. And as part of that, you have to learn to let go of control. You can't control everything. You stand up provocations, but you put some trust into these children that they will figure it out themselves. And if they come up with different outcomes, it doesn't matter what you had in mind, they are very capable of leading the way.
Silke Bethke: And us, as teachers, we have to learn to recognize that, listen to them, understand, get their perspectives more into what we're doing. And then, basically, everything you do becomes more meaningful.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. Perfect. So, let let go of control, trust your students more than you have in the past, perhaps, is a very good piece of advice.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And to differentiate and individualize, that's the thing that I think is really important from our end of the spectrum all the way through. It's knowing the children, as Silke was saying, and having that relationship with them. And when you know what their interests and needs are and you truly have that relationship, then you can provide what they need in terms of education.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And there's no point in giving them something that they're not actually going to then be able to do or want to do. So, you have to know what's going to motivate them and engage with you, especially if you're on that platform where they might not want to, when they're running off, and you're "Help".
Catherine Squire Blatti: But I do think even for the IB students at the other end, it's so important to individualize and offer different types of learning, different types of activities depending on the different individual needs of the students.
Silke Bethke: And by documenting learning outcomes. There is a documentation that learning is occurring in which areas the students are challenged and learning. And it doesn't necessarily have to be the same all the time. I think school as such old school how it used to be is very much focused on measuring one thing for all. With an approach like that, you have to let go of that. You have to really look at each individual student, how their learning is progressing, and how their learning needs are met.
Silke Bethke: And, for us, this kind of documentation we are using is a lot harder. You can't compare anymore, but why would you want to anyway? But that is much more focused on what benefits actually the children are having, what skills are they're developing, how fast their thinking progress, and how deep are they going into this. It gives you so much information. It's not that you can easily compare students with one another, but why would you want to?
Silke Bethke: And by involving families and students, the older they get the easier it will be, in my opinion, to actually let the students document their own learning. If they have that skill, assist them in becoming lifelong learners, less dependent on an adult, less dependent on teachers. But, really, the kind of human beings that we actually need if we want to make the world a better place. That's how I see it.
Peter Dalmaris: This documentation is so important, isn't it? I just want to take a minute to drill a little into the documentation, because you're showing us in this slide a very good example. The way I see it - and please correct me if you think I'm wrong - is that documentation like this to make it manageable by a teacher, and I'm thinking now all the kids as well, needs to contain really two things - actually, three things.
Peter Dalmaris: What did you do? So, a description of the activity. Why did you do it? And then, a reflection. Now, the reflection part is the interesting bit where the student can say, "I learned this, but I had some trouble with that. And I did this to work out the trouble. And this is how I feel about it now." How would you comment on that? What document like this would look like?
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, in Reggio Emilia, we based some of our work in regards to the documentation of children's learning. They say, it's not actually a pedagogical documentation until you have that reflection at the end. So, that's the important part. I mean, it's very nice to have the photographs, and the dialog, and the action. But it's the reflection, and the implications, the interpretation, and the way to go next that turns it into a piece of pedagogical documentation.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And that's what we're focused on. I mean, we were doing that already anyway in preschool, and every child has their own individual portfolio. And, for us, it was very easy to make the transition into the online learning because they all have a portfolio online as well, where we save things that we're able to then reflect on and look back on as well. So, when you've got those tools, I suppose, set up, then you can make a really easy transition with that.
Catherine Squire Blatti: The documentation, there's another slide there, too, that was another experiment. But you can see that you've got the photographs of what happened, but it's the reflections and the implications of where that family could travel to next in their journey with using the tools that they had, and what they were showing, and the photographs that they sent.
Catherine Squire Blatti: So, the process for us is really working out how do we piece that together. Especially with the other one that you can see on that page where they sent the example of the bath bomb. It was knowing which part of the video do I put into the piece of the documentation when I'm displaying as photographs for them to be able to see the learning. And how do I make it visible to the family. And then, what am I going to offer next.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And by doing that, then you're really able to individualize and differentiate the learning for the various students in the preschool. And we've never ever had one size fits all, and that's really the way we're able to manage it.
John Nyagah: I think when you try to transfer this to all the children, as a teacher, you need to allow the students to give feedback, to give feedback on their learning, to give feedback on their experience. So, when they go through, let's say, a documentation like we do, a student would draw also on the fact that he can give feedback on the particular learning either occurred or didn't occur.
John Nyagah: So, I feel our children can give us feedback and we can see if they appreciate a certain experience and want to go back into the experience, retrying it again and going back to the learning. Many of our learning stories, they don't end with the last implication. There's a follow up and there's a continuation in the learning.
John Nyagah: And that happens because we do have a feedback called culture, where the child can draw back from the experience, giving feedback, what influenced them in a way to be explorers, to be scientific, to start to think about a certain fact.
John Nyagah: You're saying something about creativity, you know, to have a catapult, or have a bath bomb, to work with water, to try to imagine and hypothesize about the fact can just only be science. And reflect two-dimensional surface on a piece of paper, I think in a dimension way, you have to start thinking in a creative way, creatively.
John Nyagah: And, almost, when we ask children to draw pictures out of science, some of them become really creative in an artist way. So, they would say, "I'm using this to represent what I just did." But it's not just a copy, it's not just a photo. It is actually also a skill reflecting on that level of creativity, imagine something they saw and putting it into a picture.
Peter Dalmaris: An expression of how they feel, perhaps.
John Nyagah: Exactly. Yeah.
Catherine Squire Blatti: Working with older students as well, because they've developed the literacy skills, then they would very easily be able to take photographs of what they're doing, and learn the technology to be able to upload all of that. And, actually, it would be made simpler. And then, file it away and then reflect on what it is that they've learned and write a quick reflection for themselves.
Catherine Squire Blatti: To be able to see that go all the way through, I mean, it's a wonderful process. It's a great way to work anyway, because you're really guiding each individual.
Peter Dalmaris: And, I guess, reflection or self-reflection is a very important life skill, not just in school, but in life in general to think about what you've just done and kind of be critical about it. But to be able to express it, to identify it, that's something that doesn't come natural to a lot of people. Learning it from school and then maintaining that as a life skill is very important.
Silke Bethke: We sometimes have families when they read our reflections, they say, "Oh, wow. I really like that. We know it's a lot of work. We don't expect you to put all that work into it." What we usually say is, "It's not just for you and it's not just for the children, it's also important for ourselves."
Silke Bethke: Because while we're writing them and while we're reflecting on how these activities are linked into our curriculum framework, which is the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, and how our objectives are achieved that way. That, for us, is a really important professional reflection that drives our work forward. So, we see that also as a very important part of our work, not just something we provide for children and their families. We need that in order to make sure we stay on track.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. Perfect. So, Silke, John, and Catherine, you've talked about a lot of very interesting topics and described how you were able to engage students and parents in lockdown during crisis, I wanted to give you the opportunity to conclude here your presentation and touch on one topic each that you haven't in the presentation itself and leave the attendees with that in mind.
Silke Bethke: For me, that would be the image of the child. Because very often, particularly with preschoolers, people have this idea they're cute, they're young, they're small, they can't do that yet. And that impacts on the children's learning and on their self-image. So, for me, something I like to install and bring out there is change that image.
Silke Bethke: See these even young children as very capable in their development. Put trust in their abilities. Have high expectations. And not do everything for them because that impacts so much on their learning and enables them to develop a healthy sense of self-efficacy and belief in themselves.
Peter Dalmaris: Perfect. Self-image. Thank you.
John Nyagah: To me, when we're looking to STEM and early years STEM, not just the fact that I'm doing an exploration in the moment. A child who's just building blocks, a child who's just trying to carry water from one side to the other is already exploring around signs, gravitating their interest in that very moment.
John Nyagah: I think it's very important to see STEM, not just as something which is two-dimensional and can only be presented from a teacher. It already happens once a child uses their tools to engage with friends, their equipment, their toys, their nature materials they find while they are in the park playing outside. And that very, very quickly leads to a scientific exploration and his creativity at the moment.
John Nyagah: So, it doesn't have to be from a teacher's perspective watered down. The child already is an explorer and knows to hypothesize by asking a question. And is inspired to repeat something because they are challenged. But they see this little scientific moments where I can balance something the first time I haven't balanced before. And then, continue to balance other things on top of each other. Carrying heavier things and feeling stronger. Their physiques changes.
John Nyagah: So, I feel it's very important to see that science, and mathematics, and technology, and engineering happens for children in this very early ages so quickly that it's already existing. It's already surrounding them that we can just pick up on the child's action and call it science.
Peter Dalmaris: It's so true. I mean, as you were talking about this, John, I was just thinking that for little kids, cute as well, everything is new. So, they're just explorers naturally. So, yeah, just keep that in mind as a teacher. Because for teachers, you have done it before, there's nothing new, everything is done already. But for a child, everything is new, so they explore everything. Thank you.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And, to me, it would be the documentation of the learning. So, whether you're a teacher or a parent or child, you can become engaged in that process, and then use that as a tool for looking at what it is that you've learned. And then, the reflection part of that taking priority, I suppose, in being able to look at what it is that you've learned and where you want to hit next with your learning.
Peter Dalmaris: Perfect. So, documentation is a great tool. It makes you a better teacher and helps the learner. It's amazing.
Catherine Squire Blatti: That's right. It can drive the curriculum, as Silke already touched on. And for parents at home, I mean, it can just be as simple as a photograph and then some kind of notation that can go with that photograph about what was happening. And then, thinking this is where I'd like to head next in terms of some kind of learning.
Catherine Squire Blatti: And for a child as well, and that's something that we also have been trying for several years now, is trying to get the children involved in the process of the documentation and then to reflect on their learning. Of course, in preschool, we would be describers for the children because they haven't learned the literacy skills yet. Having said that, some of them are on the way, and we encourage that as well for them to be able to write down what it is that they've done.
Catherine Squire Blatti: But just even drawing a picture of a science experiment. There was one slide there, too, where somebody documented what they did when we did an experiment with the bicarbonate of soda and vinegar and the balloon. And they looked at all the different samples that were given and spoke about their hypothesis. And then, they actually drew what happened, showing the results in the end. So, for me, it's the documentation.
Peter Dalmaris: Perfect. Well, Silke, Catherine, and John, thank you so much for your time today. It was an excellent presentation. I appreciate you creating it for us. Thank you.
Catherine Squire Blatti: Thank you for having us.
Silke Bethke: Thank you for giving us the opportunity.
John Nyagah: Thank you.
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