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The Power (and Philosophy) of STEAM Learning, Part 3 – Technology

Technology is the use of any object designed by humans to make a task more manageable. 

Museum Educators like to ask children what technology means to them. Inevitably, the answers we receive usually have to do with electricity. “Technology is my iPad.” or “Technology are things that have power” are typical responses. A study by the Science Museum of Boston showed that this is a nationwide trend, not just what we find in southern Minnesota. We see the same pattern when adults think about technology. It seems that, since tech is so prevalent at this time, the only aspect we routinely recognize is complex.

This definition is pretty limiting, as it denies the innovation in thousands of items each of us uses every day. A broom, pencil, shoe, or the computer I’m typing on are all relevant and useful forms of technology. Yet, many students will only recognize one of them.

Technology STEAM education in early childhood at the Childrens Museum of Southern Minnesota

Technology Education

For young people, technology education becomes two-fold. First, it is crucial that young children use it. It can be tempting for educators, as well as parents, to use technology for–or instead of–children. A three-year-old might not be proficient at using a pair of scissors to cut along a line. An adult might find it easier to do it for them, either out of a concern for safety, or efficiency. However, we all live in a world of nearly-infinite technology. It is vital for young people to practice using it to develop the fine and gross motor skills, and to understand how they fit into this world of technology. Programs at the Children’s Museum encourage children to use technology and to learn and grow through trial and error. This might sound familiar because it is very similar to the scientific method. It is also the experiential learning cycle at which children naturally excel.

Understanding Complex Technology

The type of technology that children use brings us to the second point when considering this topic. While things like touch screens and other complex examples of technology are neat, this is not the type to which I refer. The odds are that students use enough of that at home. Also, complex technology is often beyond the comprehension of young people. Much of it, that I use daily, is beyond my comprehension as well. This is not to say that we all are unable to effectively handle complex technology; we are just unable to understand how it works. The process of discovering technology becomes some sort of magic that happens in the design rooms of Apple or Google, and not something tangible and real to the majority of people.

Early Education STEAM teaching at the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota

Children are Natural Innovators

However, a toddler can understand a pair of scissors. They can appreciate a cup or a crayon. These forms of technology are as innovative as the latest video game console and also much more accessible. When the view of what constitutes technology is so narrow that it only includes things that take years of education and experience to create, the message heard is that innovation can’t happen until you are older. This couldn’t be further from the truth. For most of us, the most innovative time in our lives are the early childhood years. When children recognize the staggering level of innovation in every single item all around them, they will naturally feel more confident in their innovation skills and abilities. Imagine what the future would look like if the innovative potential in young children wasn’t extinguished but instead was encouraged? It would be glorious.

– Chris

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