18 teachers in 6 different countries participated in this STEM education project, which aimed to raise preschool students’ awareness of the value of animals for nature preservation, using the example of sea corals. Students were challenged to ask questions and offer solutions at all stages of the learning process.
Why are animals important in STEM teaching?
By observing the animals that live among us, this project aimed to develop preschool students’ mindset and behaviour towards nature. Since the start of civilisation, many inventions have been inspired by the investigation of animals. Similarly, through this project, children observed animals and their contribution to the balance of nature. We asked them to find new solutions to solve the daily environmental problems they observed. As plants and animals’ mechanisms are part of nature’s harmony, this project aimed to provide students with some understanding of it through the observation of animals in the sea.
Boost students’ understanding of the balance of nature and prompt them to behave accordingly. This will be achieved through training activities consisting of problem definition, questions, detailed designs and evaluations. All activities will show students how every “living thing” in nature is part of its balance and contributes to the preservation of life on the planet.
The case of sea corals, which are in danger of extinction among aquatic creatures, was chosen as a case study. Students watched several documentaries and listened to their teacher reading various books on the life cycle of sea corals. For example, students learned where sea corals live, how they feed and in what ways they contribute to the harmony in nature.
The problem-solution consisted of five steps:
1. Defining the problem
2. Generating the solution
Corals, which are sea creatures, have come to the point of extinction because of seas pollution. Corals are key creatures that contribute to the world’s oxygen balance and fight against pollution. Living in depths humans cannot reach, corals serve as habitats for other creatures, thanks to their tree-like structure. Unconscious pollution of the sea, together with chemical, construction and plastic waste cause their extinction.
Activities were based on the 5E model of instruction, applied to STEM. A training plan was executed, from simple to complex, easy to difficult. Children researched sea corals and their habitats. Discovery, presentation, learning by discovery and multiple intelligence were supported by verbal expression methods. In addition, to further investigate the dangers posed by corals’ extinction and the devastation of their habitats, science-art, science-nature and storytelling activities were carried out.
A STEM corner was prepared in the classroom, addressed to this particular project. Moreover, students were introduced to environmental engineering. They were asked to imagine themselves as environmental engineers. An environmental engineer was invited to train all students involved in the project. In an online meeting, she explained the importance of water and how water pollution impacts our planet’s future. Families also participated, contributing to raising environmental and social awareness.
Children were asked the question: what kind of design would you make to save sea corals and habitats from extinction? To answer the question, they designed a mechanism for cleaning the seas, using recycled materials, just like corals do. They tested it by cleaning dirty water in the classroom with the tools they designed, using the test and try-again method.
As part of the scientific learning process, students were asked questions at every stage of the project. The evaluation ensured children took part in the activities with pleasure and understood the value animals add to human life and nature.
Songul has a master’s degree in Character and Value Education and a bachelor’s degree in Child Development and Education. She is working as a preschool teacher in İstanbul, Turkey, and practices STEM applications in her daily lessons. In addition, she has participated in several Europewide STEM projects.