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Seeds of STEM: The Development of an Innovative Pre-Kindergarten STEM Curriculum

Year: 2015
Name of Institution:
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Goal: Development and Innovation
Principal Investigator:
Cyr, Martha
Award Amount: $1,462,318
Award Period: 4 years (8/1/2015-9/30/2019)
Award Number: R305A150571


Co-Principal Investigators: Florencia Anggoro (College of the Holy Cross), Mia Dubosarsky and Melissa-Sue John (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)

Purpose: The purpose of the project is to develop and test a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum to improve STEM teaching and learning in prekindergarten classrooms. The Seeds of STEM intervention will focus on children's understanding of science and engineering concepts and professional development support for early childhood educators. The ability to apply STEM concepts and skills for solving a variety of problems is considered key for students' future success as well as the nation's competitiveness in the global economy. Despite the evidence that introducing STEM ideas during the pre-kindergarten years supports children's cognitive development and positive attitudes toward learning and inquiry there is very little STEM instruction in pre-kindergarten classrooms. The proposed intervention is expected to increase STEM instructional practices in preschool classrooms, increase and children's exposure to STEM concepts and processes, and lead to improvements in children's knowledge and inquiry skills in STEM content areas.

Project Activities: Key project activities will include the iterative development of a STEM curriculum, teacher professional development materials, and measures to assess child outcomes, teacher practices, and fidelity of implementation. Researchers will conduct a pilot study to evaluate the promise of the new intervention to improve teacher practices and children's knowledge and understanding of science and engineering.

Products: The products of this project include a fully developed STEM curriculum and teacher support materials to improve STEM teaching and learning in preschool programs. Researchers will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The project will take place in Head Start programs in urban areas in Massachusetts.

Sample: Initial development will occur with 34 teachers. In the pilot study phase of the project, study participants will include 16 preschool teachers and 270 children. The majority of the child sample will be from low-income families.

Intervention: The Seeds of STEM intervention includes a classroom curriculum and teacher professional development materials. The classroom curriculum will include 8 structured lessons focused on STEM practices that support the development of children's problem solving and inquiry skills. Each lesson plan will build on and expand the preceding lessons. Authentic assessment will be embedded in each lesson to provide evidence for children's mastery of learning outcomes. The teacher support component of the intervention will include a video library and professional development workshops.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will develop and test the intervention over a four year period. The curriculum will be developed through an iterative process in a partnership between the research team and lead teachers from a local Head Start program. Researchers will develop each lesson using a 10-week iterative process that is based on an initial assessment of teacher needs and continual feedback from classroom teachers regarding feasibility of implementation. In Year 1, researchers will recruit and select preschool teachers who will help to develop the lessons, finalize teacher assessments, develop student outcome measures, and conduct teacher surveys to assess teachers' baseline knowledge of the engineering design process, teachers' prior experience teaching STEM, and teachers' perceived self-efficacy in teaching engineering. In Year 2, the curriculum development team (researchers and teachers) will develop lesson plans, field test the lessons, examine feasibility of implementation, and pilot test the researcher-developed child outcome measures. In Year 3, researchers will recruit and randomly assign a new group of classrooms and teachers to treatment and control conditions, train teachers in the treatment group to implement the lessons, collect pre- and post-intervention data from teachers and students, and examine fidelity of implementation. In Year 4, researchers will analyze pilot study data and disseminate the study findings.

Control Condition: All teachers will receive a one-day professional development (PD) session and a list of STEM learning outcomes. During the pilot study, intervention teachers will receive the curriculum, but control teachers will not.

Key Measures: Primary measures include researcher-developed tools and standardized measures. Researcher-developed measures will be used to assess feasibility, usability and fidelity of implementation. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) will be used to collect data on classroom practices. The Teacher Efficacy and Attitudes Toward STEM Survey and the Personal STEM Teaching Efficacy and Beliefs—Engineering Survey will be used to assess teacher self-efficacy. Researchers will use the Draw An Engineer protocol to assess teachers' perceptions of engineers. Researcher-developed measures will be used to assess teacher content knowledge and knowledge of how to teach the engineering design process, and children's use of engineering design process vocabulary, execution of problem solving design steps, and ability to transfer knowledge and skills.

Data Analytic Strategy: During the iterative development phase, researchers will conduct descriptive analyses of teacher survey responses and conduct qualitative analyses to code for curriculum quality and usability. In the pilot study phase, the research team will conduct analyses to evaluate the impact of the curriculum teachers' instructional and child outcomes.