Professional development through ECA’s Communities of Practice

Youngacademics, 10 Aug 2023

ECA’s Communities of Practice (CoP) are a valuable resource for early  childhood professionals to boost their professional development. Here  Young Academic Early Learning Centre’s Aimee Mathai reflects on her  participation in an ECA CoP on STEM in Early Childhood, which resulted in  an Action Research Project (ARP) on how to implement STEM learning  across multiple services.

 

Communities of Practice and Action Research Projects

Current educational trends and policy expectations are starting to be reflected in early  childhood education and care (ECEC) settings. One area that has seen significant  growth in ECEC is inquiry-based science, technology, engineering and mathematics  (STEM) learning (Wang et al., 2020). Children’s participation in inquiry-based STEM  learning has been identified as an indicator of intellectual and social development, and  predicted future economic participation (Dilek et al., 2020). Fostering meaningful,  inquiry-based STEM learning in ECEC settings therefore not only meets future social and  economic needs, but also supports the individual long-term learning goals of children  and their families. For ECEC professionals, a combination of prior experience and ongoing professional  development (PD) helps identify opportunities to embed inquiry-based STEM learning.  Engaging in PD opportunities that involve moderated, professional discussions with like minded practitioners, such as ECA’s Communities of Practice (CoP), has proven to be  most effective in producing new knowledge (Perron et al., 2007). As shared,  collaborative learning spaces, CoPs can build participants’ professional knowledge by  providing new perspectives and challenging understandings through current research.  The Action Research Project (ARP) component of an ECA CoP supports learning and  enhances interpretations of sector knowledge. It also provides the ‘push’ for  professionals to take a ‘step back’ and reflect on their current practices. The ARP process  encourages CoP participants to critically reflect and focus on areas for improvement in  their practice. It gives us the tools to create meaningful and effective changes to the way  young children engage in their learning.   The framework of an ARP is flexible and can be adapted to meet the needs of all ECEC  services and professionals. In general, it involves identifying a focus topic; opportunities  to create a focus plan; time to act on the plan; and opportunities to observe and reflect  (Miller, 2017). 

My journey with ECA’s CoP on STEM in Early Childhood 

I joined ECA’s CoP on STEM in Early Childhood with the goal of supporting children’s  inquiry-based learning through play. I used the ARP and a strengths, weaknesses,  opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis to identify how Young Academics’ current  service-wide inquiry-based STEM learning could be adapted and improved. The  ultimate aim was to create a STEM-based curriculum benefitting children aged six weeks  to six years across multiple ECEC services.   As discussion proceeded in the CoP, I was able to critically reflect on the creation of a  holistic STEM-based curriculum. I considered how the curriculum could provide  intentional learning opportunities that could be rolled out across multiple ECEC  services. Within this supportive learning environment, I assessed the balance between  meeting the social and economic drivers of STEM learning and fostering children’s  holistic learning. The critical reflective process of the ARP worked in favour of this  balance, ensuring children’s play opportunities remained at the centre of curriculum  development.   Using the ARP findings and strategies discussed with like-minded professionals in the  CoP, I identified the most appropriate times to embed the inquiry-based STEM  curriculum into our services’ weekly routines. It was decided that a term-based STEM  curriculum might be more effective at fostering children’s learning. We also decided to  support STEM-based inquiry through play-based experiences and by focusing on  children’s individual interests.   The ARP allowed for the simultaneous practical development of a term-based STEM  curriculum trial at Young Academics. Our educators reviewed the draft curriculum to  identify areas for improvement. We also revisited the SWOT analysis to ensure the  proposed curriculum was inclusive and accessible to all children across multiple  services. Soon after this, a specialised STEM curriculum delivery team implemented the  inquiry-based STEM curriculum to all Young Academics services across multiple terms.  The ARP reflective process enabled the team to ensure that each term’s curriculum both  supports children’s leaning and aligns with the National Quality Framework and our  company values and expectations.  The STEM curriculum team developed an implementation guide for educators across  services by combining their individual ARP focuses. As each service’s team took  ownership of delivering a high-quality, inquiry-based STEM curriculum, the specialist  STEM team were able to step away. However, the ECEC professionals in all services then  implemented the CoP concept of peer learning to create their own ARP. This involved  developing a plan to incorporate STEM into their weekly programs, create and observe the STEM program, and reflect on its effectiveness by assessing data such as children’s  creative works.   Thanks to the flexible structure of the ARP, observation and critical reflection are  ongoing. Multiple reviews of the project will allow us to maintain a holistic and relevant  STEM curriculum. Although the ARP began just over six months ago, it has already  presented senior management and our educators with many opportunities for  continuous improvement.   Through documented observations, my journey with the ECA CoP on STEM in Early  Childhood developed into a beautiful storytelling opportunity of young children thriving  in areas of STEM—researching space, investigating natural sciences and physics,  exploring new technology and new ways to communicate, and becoming comfortable  with mathematical concepts.  

References: 

  Dilek, H., Tasdemir, A., Konca, A. S. & Baltaci, S. (2020). Preschool Children’s Science Motivation and Process Skills during Inquiry-Based STEM Activities. Journal of Education in Science  Environment and Health, 6(3), 92-104. https://doi.org/10.21891/jeseh.673901  Perron, A., Reid, M., Reeves, D.B., Luke, A. & West, L. (2007). Teacher Moderation: Collaborative  Assessment of Student Work. Toronto, Not: Curriculum Services Canada  Li, Y., Wang, K., Xiao, Y. & Froyd, J. E. (2020). Research and Trends in STEM Education: A  Systematic Review of Journal Publications. International Journal of STEM Education,  7(11), 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-020-00207-6   Miller, M. (2017). Action Research: The Benefits for Early Childhood Educators. Belonging Early  Years Journal, 6(3), 26-29. 

This article was published in Every Child magazine Vol. 29 No. 2 2023. It appears here by permission of Every Child’s publisher, Early Childhood Australia.

Not for distribution beyond Young Academics © Early Childhood Australia

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