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This curriculum was developed for The Hundred Acre School at Heritage Museums & Gardens Inc. located in Sandwich, Massachusetts. Heritage Museums & Gardens received a Preschool Innovative STEM Curriculum Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) in 2014. The goal of the grant was to develop innovative preschool Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics curricula to be used by early education programs for preschool-aged children. EEC recognizes that quality programs include: project based learning, hands-on experimentation, and providing experiences that support natural inquiry. These concepts are central in the Collections Curriculum. While this curriculum has been developed for use at The Hundred Acre School, the hope is that the concepts are easily replicated by other Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care programs.  

In 2015, Heritage Museums & Gardens received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which primarily works with communities to create conditions so vulnerable children can realize their full potential in school, work and life.  This grant provided the opportunity to pilot the curriculum at two additional sites in New Orleans, Louisiana and Brockton, Massachusetts. Through this grant, Heritage Museums & Gardens updated the Curriculum and added additional Investigations, and developed an online training program for educators interested in implementing this STEM-focused model.  Contact Susan Vinovrski, Grant Coordinator for additional information.

About the Curriculum

This curriculum is designed for preschoolers, specifically 4-5 year olds. It covers all domains of development, but focuses teaching and learning activities through a STEM lens. The learning environment (indoors and out) had been carefully designed to promote STEM explorations and support and enhance the curriculum.

The curriculum is divided into Investigations for in-depth study of each topic. Following an emergent curriculum philosophy, the Investigations serve as a guide for teachers as they capitalize on children’s and families’ interests in each topic and design lessons based on children’s inquiry questions. Each Investigation has been selected to cover all objectives outlined by the Massachusetts Preschool Learning Experiences developed by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care and is aligned to a standardized assessment tool.

This curriculum begins with investigating STEM tools to introduce children to the Scientific Method. The goal is to encourage children and families to explore inquiry learning and how to use tools to test their theories. The tools introduced in this initial Investigation will then become part of the instruments used for other Investigations. Using the Scientific Method becomes a way for children to organize their ideas, develop and test hypotheses, and build upon their knowledge. 

Every Investigation begins with provocations designed to get children and families talking and asking questions about STEM concepts related to the specific Investigation. As children’s questions emerge, teachers will design activities to help children test their hypotheses and further their learning. Teachers expand the investigation based on children’s interests and experiments using lab reports that document their hypotheses. Investigations culminate in the creation of an Exhibition where children share what they have learned with others. 

About the Authors

Melissa Russell, M. Ed. is a dedicated educator with certification in both early childhood and elementary education. She has a Master of Education degree focusing on Curriculum and Instruction from Lesley University and holds an undergraduate degree double majoring in psychology and education from Mount Holyoke College, where she graduated with honors. She has taught in both formal (classroom) and informal (museum) educational settings where she has honed her expertise in inquiry-based education, STEM-related curriculum development, and museum education. Since 2010, Melissa has led numerous education initiatives for Heritage Museums & Gardens that have helped build its reputation as a prominent outdoor education center. Melissa was head of curriculum development for children ages 2-10 for the Hidden Hollow™ nature discovery area, developed numerous museum-wide programs for families, and helped design and lead teachers’ workshops emphasizing STEM and nature education at an early age. As a museum administrator, she was responsible for training and supervising 25 museum educators working in all content areas of the museum. Melissa is the director of The Hundred Acre School at Heritage Museums & Gardens where, through her leadership, a museum gallery has been transformed into a state of the art STEM-focused school that is the pinnacle of best practice.

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Kori Bardige, MS. Ed., is an early childhood consultant. She completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at Lawrence University and her Master’s in Special Education from Simmons College. She has taught in both self-contained and inclusive public preschool and child care programs. After leaving the classroom, she began developing training programs and providing professional development to child care providers throughout Maryland. She was the principal investigator on two large grants to improve child care quality in Maryland. She also worked as a Preschool Special Education Consultant in New Jersey, providing training and technical assistance to public preschool programs on behalf of the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Now back in Massachusetts, Kori opened Learning Circle Consulting and provides training, coaching, and mentoring to school districts, child care programs, home visitors, and families focused on scaffolding learning, engaging curiosity, and teaching through play. Her primary goal is to encourage teachers to become more reflective and intentional in their practice by using assessment data to plan their curriculum and instruction and scaffold playful interactions. She offers educators a variety of tools to elicit children’s questions that enhance learning experiences and capitalize on children’s curiosity, and engage them in exploration, inquiry, experimentation, and productive play.