STEM and Preschool

Spark! Discovery Preschool, which opened in August 2013, is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) preschool.  Our STEM model was inspired by a program called Innovation Academy for a Smarter Planet, a unique, multi-year partnership between IBM, CU Teach, Skyline High School STEM, and St. Vrain Valley Schools, which Paige Gordon, our Administrator, directed and developed in its first four years of existence.

STEM in St. Vrain Valley Schools

STEM Schools in St. Vrain Valley transform teaching and learning by providing students with engaging, real world learning experiences to emphasize connections between school, community and our global society. Students apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts using 21st century skills and inquiry-based design thinking models to create innovative solutions to authentic problems enhancing post- secondary and career readiness.

Preschool STEM Education in SVVSD

  • Stimulate student interest in real-world learning through exploration and introduction to foundational STEM experiences that
  • Begin introduction to role-models in STEM careers and fields
  • Provide a teaching and learning environment in which content and skills of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are integrated using the Colorado Academic Standards
  • Incorporate the design thinking process, a strategy for integrating problem solving into classrooms, schools, and the workplace
  • Provide STEM programming in a variety of settings, along with extended learning opportunities



Instruction: Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math concepts and standards in core classes, application of knowledge

Planning: Colorado Academic Standards, Tier 1 Instruction, Teaching Learning Cycle, SIOP strategies, alignment

Technology: Instruction and creation through a variety of tools

Assessment: Data-driven instruction, performance assessment, formative assessment


Design Thinking: Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test / Feedback

Inquiry: Driven by essential questions or problems


Skills: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Character

Traits: Building resilience, learning from failure, giving and receiving valuable feedback, backing up 
claims with evidence, presenting and communicating findings, and applying knowledge to unique problems


Student Agency: Academic, Personal, Professional, Entrepreneurial, and Civic Competencies

Student Voice: Following curiosity, student-driven inquiry, student leadership & ownership, teacher as facilitator

College & Career Readiness: College in Colorado, Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP)


Academic: connecting learning with real world applications

College & Career Awareness: Mentors, STEM Career Connections

Community: Both local and global, Outreach and Partnerships, Family Connections and Involvement


Spark! Discovery Preschool from SVVSD on Vimeo.

In addition to a comprehensive preschool program, we will focus on STEM-based learning as well. “STEM learning is an economic imperative… STEM literacy has a profound and growing impact on our day-to-day lives. It helps us make critical decisions about our health care, our finances and our retirement. It illuminates the ever more complex issues that govern the future of our democracy, and it reveals to us the beauty and power of the world we inhabit. A literate nation not only reads. It computes, investigates and innovates.” -Change the

Why STEM in Preschool?

  • It provides our staff, parents, and preschoolers with a systematic approach to learning and to teaching using inquiry-based approaches, which integrate science, technology,engineering, and mathematics.
  • “STEM offers a chance for children to make sense of the world rather than learn isolated bits and pieces of phenomena...” (Kaufman, et al. 2003, Abts, 2006)
  • STEM supports overall academic growth and creates a foundation for current and later learning
  • STEM makes school interesting and relevant to young learners through intellectual engagement and challenging learning experiences
  • STEM takes advantage of the natural curiosity of early learners
  • STEM develops early critical thinking and reasoning skills and supports 21st century learning skills 
  • STEM allows us to bring in role models and introduce STEM careers and fields

What are STEM Practices in Preschool?

  • Instruction supports overall academic growth and acceleration of students, while it enhances later interest in solving real world problems in STEM fields.
  • Instruction fosters designing, experimenting, problem-solving, and social interaction. In STEM there is the recognition that instruction occurs best in a social atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration.
  • Children are presented with real-world challenges, and they are encouraged to solve problems and present their ideas. These projects and challenges promote real life application of 21st century skills, such as critical-thinking and reasoning, collaboration, and creativity, necessary for learning now and in the future. These activities inspire children’s reasoning and learning over a long period of time.
  • In addition to teacher-designed challenges, preschool STEM allows for an experience where we focus on children’s questions and purposes, and engage them in authentic exploration and experimentation.
  • STEM instruction provides classroom opportunities and environments for using concrete objects to build and explore the world. This allows for opportunities for children to change variables and observe results immediately.
  • The integrated curriculum gives students opportunity to apply their literacy and numeracy skills in purposeful ways.
  • Students develop technology skills and experiences, which are integrated and interactive, age appropriate, and enhance children’s cognitive and social abilities.
  • The staff seeks to develop partnerships with parents, business, and community-based organizations, which extend learning opportunities in creative and unique ways.

What are standard experiences should young children should frequently have in STEM programming?

(Katz, 2010, “STEM in Early Years”)

  • Being intellectually engaged, absorbed, and challenged
  • Being engaged in extended interactions (e.g., conversations, discussions, exchanges of views, planning of work, etc.)
  • Being involved in sustained investigations of aspects of their own environment and experiences worthy of their time, interest, knowledge, and understanding
  • Taking initiative in a range of activities and accepting responsibility for what is accomplished
  • Experiencing satisfaction that can come from overcoming obstacles and setbacks and solving problems
  • Having confidence in their own intellectual powers and their own questions
  • Helping others to find out things and to understand them better
  • Making suggestions to others and expressing appreciation of others’ efforts and accomplishments
  • Applying their developing basic literacy and numeracy skills in purposeful ways
  • Feeling they belong to a group of their peers

What are our guiding principles as we develop our unique programming?

Development of Dispositions: These include attributes such as empathy, risk-taking, creativity, curiosity, persistence, and the like.

A Focus on Integration:  Combining disciplines to help children see the connectedness of concepts by tying together seemingly disjointed blocks of information

Establishing Relevance:  Conveying how knowledge is applicable AND useful in the world around us. Applying their developing basic literacy and numeracy skills in purposeful ways. Experiences are worthy of their time, interest, knowledge, and understanding.

Emphasis on 21st Century Skills: Because it’s not good enough to possess knowledge in isolation anymore.  Children need to know how to communicate, access information, solve problems creatively, communicate ideas and concepts effectively, team member and collaborate.

Challenge and Engagement: Using age-appropriate challenges so children can be more apt to be intrigued with their work and not suffer from being unchallenged, while also avoiding tasks that may be too difficult.

Variety:  Providing a variety of outcomes in STEM units of study by including a variety of inquiry based learning strategies, including design thinking, to express their knowledge, share their expertise, and expand their skill set. 

Interactive:  Engaging in extended social & intellectual interactions which develop social skills, language, & vocabulary

What about comprehensive preschool?

We do that too!  The goal of our school district's preschool program is to provide high quality early childhood experiences for children in a safe, supporting, and stimulating environment. Another goal of preschool is to prepare them for kindergarten.  Our comprehensive preschool program uses standards-based curriculum, called Creative Curriculum, to create an environment that supports learning through play and discovery in an engaging learning environment. The curriculum also helps teachers to develop small and large group learning experiences to enhance their development. Progress is observed and documented using the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment, along with additional assessments, in all developmental (social-emotional, motor, cognitive, and language) and content areas (literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, the arts, and technology).

Additionally we administer the PALS (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening) to all preschoolers in the spring who are moving to kindergarten.  This provides information to us regarding strenghts and areas of need, as well as exit data regarding our ability to adequately prepare children for kindergarten.  Also, this assessment is given prior to entering kindergarten in SVVSD, during kindergarten assessment days, so it allows us to monitor retention of skills over time. 

Specific to preschool literacy programming, we have adopted Handwriting Without Tears to assist us in developing fine motor skills and emergent writing skills. We have also adopted Zoo Phonics as an instructional resource for teachers to assist children in learning letter names and letter sounds. 

During the 2015-2016 school year, we are implementing some more formalized Movement opportunities.  

A quality early childhood experience also includes a valued partnership between the school and families. We are family focused and facilitate learning in all developmental areas.

Preschool Units of STEM at Spark, 2015-2016

We want to share our whole-school instructional plan with parents, so you have a better understanding of how we are integrating STEM-based learning into our preschool curriculum.  During the first half of the school year, concluding on January 22, all preschool classes have experienced three units of STEM, including:

·       ROADS

o   A study in how we organize ourselves

o   Design challenges included: design a new road for the Rattletrap Car, designing a way for the Bee-Bot to travel to the park, and designing a way for the Rattletrap family to get home.  

·       PETS

o   A study in how we share the planet

o   The design challenge included:  Redesign a way for Chewy Louie and his family to be happy together

·       EXERCISE

o   A study in who we are as healthy people

o   Design challenges included:  design a way to keep our bodies hydrated when we exercise, design a piece of exercise equipment that would help IQ (a book character) get fit so he can win a gold ribbon, and redesign our all-school movement.

These 6 units each year represent the comprehensive plan for high-quality, STEM-based inquiry, which are taught in all classrooms.  We structure our teaching staff into three teams, and together they collaboratively develop units of inquiry, based on STEM principles, Creative Curriculum, Colorado Department of Education standards for preschool learning, and the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment.  The three teams then share their planning tools, materials, templates, and resources with one another, with each team developing the unit even further than the previous team. 


During the second half of the school year, we will be focusing our STEM units and design challenges on these topics, in various orders, depending on your child’s teacher:


o   A study in how the world works


o   A study in how we express ourselves


o   A study in where we are in time and place

Additionally, there are times when we take a week to study topical subjects, such as the week of Feb 29 – Mar 4, when we will focus on Dr. Suess’s Read Across America study.

In looking ahead, during the 2016 – 2017 school year, we have determined we will develop the following units:

First half of the year ’16-‘17:

o   Simple Machines

o   Buildings

o   Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Second half of the year ’16-’17:

o   Music

o   Family and Friends

o   Life Cycles (Plants, Insects, and People)

This will ensure a two-year cycle of inquiry, which will include new and novel explorations for each classroom and student attending.

We are seeking any experts from our parents, or connections our parents have, to support, extend, and enrich the learning opportunities with guest speakers, demonstrations, models, simulations, etc.  Please talk to your child’s teacher if you have ideas!