Early Childhood STEM Conference

The sixth annual Early Childhood Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (ECSTEM) Conference welcomed over 700 attendees from across the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic, Australia, New Zealand, China, and the Middle East to the Hilton in rainy Pasadena for a 2-day conference (February 3-4, 2017) themed around Curiosity. The conference is a partnership between THINK Together’s Early Learning Program and The Children’s Center at Caltech (CCC).

The conference kicked off with a keynote address by Dr. Konstantin Batygin, Associate Professor of Planetary Science at Caltech. At 9:00 a.m. on a Friday morning, the 30-yr old astrophysicist had attendees alternately in hysterics and spell-bound as he took them through the journey of discovering the Ninth Planet, referring to research he and Dr. Michael E. Brown published in January 2016. Have they found the Ninth Planet yet? No. But the exploration is just as important as the outcome.

After his address, he was asked by an attendee “Why do you think children are fascinated by things that are so far away?” Batygin, known around CCC as “Emma’s dad”, responded by reflecting on conversations with his 5-yr old daughter. He described the fundamental human experience of asking “What’s next?” – we’ve crossed the oceans, now we look to the skies and beyond. That journey of exploration is instinctive in children and
adults alike.

“Batygin perfectly opened the door to curiosity and set the tone for what we’re going to be learning together the next two days,” said Tiffany Alva, Sr. Director of Early Learning at THINK Together. “This room is filled with STEM enthusiasts and the exchange of ideas is going to be phenomenal. Better yet, these early childhood educators and researchers are going to take these ideas and infuse them back into their spheres of influence.”

Attendees had opportunities to attend Workshops ranging from “Art, Snack, Nap, then Coding” to “Invertebrates as the ‘Backbone’ of an Elementary Science Curriculum” to “Dancing Robots”. In between sessions, they explored the vendor hall which looked more like a Toys ‘R’ Us than a standard conference
exhibitors’ space.

The conference also gave attendees an opportunity to engage with a traveling exhibit created by the Hawkins Centers of Learning called “Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins.” The philosophy was based on observation of children as they actively explored their worlds: questioning, testing, and making meaning. Research built on that philosophy by asking the question “How can educators sustain children’s innate capacity for wonder, curiosity, and engagement?”

“We look forward to uniting together to promote and increase awareness of the importance of STEM education in early childhood,” said Susan Wood, Executive Director at The Children’s Center at Caltech. “We want to inform and inspire attendees to cultivate their own curiosity as they carry it forward to their youngest learners.”

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