STEM leader – December 2021

Danielle Dos Santos, WA

Danielle Dos Santos holds a Certificate III in early childhood education and care and is working towards an Associate Diploma. Danielle has been working in early childhood education since 2013 and is currently working at Ruth Landau Harp Early Learning Centre in Perth.

Danielle loves incorporating STEM into her classroom experiences. As a creative person, she has always enjoyed setting up engaging environments and the service’s Little Scientists area is now another space where she captures the curiosity and interest of the children.

Her particular interest in working with children with additional needs and creating an inclusive learning environment goes hand-in-hand with her passion for STEM as, in her experience, all children can participate in STEM.

Danielle believes that STEM is important in early childhood education because it develops questioning and critical thinking skills. Danielle believes that asking, “Why?”, increases children’s awareness of the world around them and their place in it. Danielle often experiences adults thinking of STEM as something outside their comfort zone but believes that educators can teach children that it is all around us and can be found in everyday experiences. This can eliminate educators’ fears of engaging with STEM learning.

Danielle is a fan of inquiry-based STEM learning because it really involves all of the senses. It allows children to explore and discover in a very independent way. Inquiry-based learning is important for Danielle because of the magic and wonder that comes from children discovering something all by themselves.

Danielle’s favourite workshop is Chemical Reactions. She loves the way you can use so many everyday resources, put them together and create a little bit of magic. Children in Danielle’s service are always mixing potions and concocting strange new substances so they were open to exploring and experimenting with chemical reactions. Attending the workshop helped Danielle see how many opportunities for learning there are in the simple things and that you don’t need a lot of money or expensive resources to be able to do some very cool things.

Inspired by the Chemical Reactions workshop, Danielle and the children explored red cabbage as a pH indicator, and she found it to be her most inspiring STEM experience with the children. She felt inspired because it required the introduction of some complex concepts and ideas but the children were not afraid of learning and adopting these new terms. Danielle reports that the children are now talking about base and acid and are making predictions based on the connections they can create through other learning and prior knowledge. This experience has helped Danielle embrace the fact that even the youngest children are more capable than we think.

Another venture into the world of chemical reactions was also a big success. Eggs are used every day in Danielle’s service: The children create environmentally friendly glitter from their shells, eat eggs for breakfast and once a year hatch chicks from them. However, Danielle and the children thought that they could only see the inside of an egg once its shell was broken. An experiment with eggs and vinegar proved them wrong and everyone was awestruck at the incredible results. As the vinegar broke down the hard shell, they were able to see more and more of the egg, which maintained its shape on the outside and the inside. They were all amazed that the yolk stayed intact and could be dissected, right down to the runny middle. “I had never seen anything like it and nor had the children,” Danielle recalls.

In their everyday STEM learning, Danielle encourages the children to take risks, not to fear failure and try new things, and try again in a different way if something doesn’t work the first time. Danielle welcomes children’s questions: “When we question, we learn!” she says, “The more questions we ask, the more discovering and exploring we get to do.”

Danielle understands her role as being a partner in the children’s discovery and research. She helps them to organise their thoughts and their questions so that she can create a path to the answer with them. She helps to give them the words and vocabulary to explain what they see, hear, smell, feel and taste and then find ways to build and expand.

Danielle believes that in the future, STEM education will be more widely adopted across all forms and levels of education. Inquiring minds are the future leaders and will be tasked with solving the many problems our world currently faces, she says.

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