Series: About the Collaborative

At the White House: Reflections on the Early STEM Symposium

At the White House: Reflections on the Early STEM Symposium

The Early Math Collaborative was invited to the White House on Thursday, April 21, 2016 to attend an Early STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Symposium to discuss the importance of STEM for young children.

Organized by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Invest in Us, the event honored organizations that promote STEM learning, aligning with the Obama Administration’s overarching goals to improve and expand access to STEM education for children ages 0-5 across the country. Erikson Institute’s Jie-Qi Chen, Chip Donohue, and Jennifer McCray took part in the symposium’s panel discussions, presentations, and break-out conversations.

“The biggest challenge,” said McCray during a discussion, “is providing teachers with the discipline knowledge they need in order to be able to respond to children’s interests and questions in ways that lead to stronger foundational STEM knowledge. Improving teachers’ fluency and confidence in these subjects will give them the flexibility they need to communicate these abstract ideas in ways that resonate with their students.”

Reaching the greatest number of children in the United States’ diverse student body was also an idea that frequently came up at the event. McCray affirms that Erikson Institute is in the right place to respond to these concerns: “Erikson’s depth of knowledge about working with families and reaching into communities that are language-diverse should be an important part of how we think about early STEM work going forward.”

The Early Math Collaborative’s new project, Collaborative Math, funded by the National Science Foundation and in partnership with the City of Chicago’s Department of Child and Family Services, was among those honored at the event. This four-year program aims to improve early math understanding in students and teachers at 28 Head Start centers across the city of Chicago. To aid in the development of math in these classrooms, the Collaborative will facilitate in-person teacher coaching, learning labs, and exploration with classroom materials. Reflecting on conversations from the symposium, McCray notes that “there is a lot of interest in communicating with and empowering parents, both as children’s first teachers and as advocates for better STEM education for their children.