Grace Samuel is an educator and STEM coordinator at Binnowee Kindergarten in Sydney, where she has been working since 2016. As well as her Certificate III in early childhood education and a couple of years’ experience working in the long daycare sector, Grace has a Master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. She regularly attends professional learning events in varied areas of early learning, particularly in STEM, and is studying towards her Diploma in early childhood education.
“I am always amazed at the world around us and how STEM helps us understand the world we live in,” is Grace’s philosophy and so it is not surprising that she loves to foster the children’s intrigue and fascination with the wider world. With her background in science, Grace enjoys feeding the children’s curious minds and building on their thinking so they see the connection of our everyday experiences to STEM. She does this through inquiry-based learning and hands-on STEM explorations and focuses specifically on 4- to 5-year-olds.
Grace strongly believes that children learn through play and therefore encourages free play that allows them to get creative, develop their thinking skills, invent things and resolve various situations. Grace’s favourite part is that she does this together with the children and learns new things every day along with them.
For Grace, STEM is important in early childhood education because STEM is part of our everyday life. She believes that teaching STEM in early childhood plays an important role in paving the pathway for the children to develop their curiosity, creativity, teamwork, communication skills, resilience, critical thinking and problem-solving, all of which are crucial for their lives in the future.
Grace is a fan of inquiry-based learning because STEM involves open-ended and hands-on research, which she does together with the children, leading to largely child-led discoveries. She believes that this type of learning gives the children autonomy and confidence, and it feeds their interests which helps them to become confident learners.
Grace enjoyed her first online workshop with Little Scientists, Inspire STEM – Explore, Play, Reflect because of the approach to inquiry-based STEM education. She enjoyed the practical elements of the workshop and the Inquiry Cycle as a method to scaffold STEM exploration which she uses every day in her teaching approach with the children.
Some of the most inspiring STEM experiences for Grace were the STEM explorations her service did relating to COVID-19. Investigating one of the children’s question, “Why do people bring Coronavirus from other countries and how does it spread?”, Grace and the children started from the basics to develop their understanding of COVID-19 further. Children and teachers sat down together, hypothesising every little thing that they could think of to answer that question. Educators encouraged the children to broaden their thinking and ask their families. All of this led to a list of hypotheses. To deepen their understanding, educators and children read books, watched videos, listened to what doctors said about the virus (online) and most of all, did lots of hands-on experiments, many of which investigated how germs spread. The experiments kept everyone fascinated, engaged and thinking.
“There is no end to learning, especially when we start to see the STEM learning all around us,” says Grace, who sees her job as an early childhood educators in helping the children discover STEM exploration and fascination in their everyday lives.
Grace enjoys hearing about the children’s love of discovery from the parents. One parent told her how amazed he was with his child’s genuine understanding of precipitation. While on a drive, his daughter excitedly talked about how the clouds had sucked up all the water, which they then let go as rain. Stories like this make Grace feel overjoyed and proud to be an educator.
Grace encourages the children to ask all sorts of questions, wonder why and never give up if an experiment or exploration doesn’t meet their expectations as hypothesising is such a big part of STEM work and learning in general. Binnowee Kindergarten has a whiteboard called wonder wall on which the educators write the children’s questions. Educators then explore these questions either one-on-one with the children or together as a whole class depending on the children’s interests.
Grace sees her role in the children’s discovery in supporting the children’s sense of wonder and natural love of discovering new learning and concepts. She also scaffolds the children’s learning by providing answers or more questions to explore.
According to Grace, STEM education is the way to go as it is hands-on learning with real world applications. She believes that STEM learning helps develop individuals who are skilled and future-focused.