“What do you predict we will find inside here?” Kimberly Brenneman asks the preschoolers gathered around her as they consider the coconut she is holding. This isn’t your everyday show and tell. Dr. Brenneman, an assistant research professor at Rutgers’ Department of Psychology, as well as NIEER, is engaging the kids in a line of scientific inquiry that illustrates a teaching approach known as Preschool Pathways to Science. Called PrePS for short, it contributed to the teaching method used in the popular PBS show Sid the Science Kid. It’s also the title of a new book just out from Brookes Publishing that serves as a guide for implementing science in preschool classrooms.
Brenneman and her co-authors are receiving national attention for Preschool Pathways to Science because it enables teachers to facilitate preschool-age children’s ability to expand their tendencies to explore, ask questions, and think in ways that follow the scientific method. Lead author Dr. Rochel Gelman is director of the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science and a NIEER scientific advisory board member. Professor Gelman is known for her research on young children’s development of causal and quantitative reasoning, and on learning in informal environments. She says science involves the use of a set of processes to gain understanding about the world of objects and events. By themselves they are unlikely to evolve spontaneously in children and so it’s important to provide opportunities for kids to participate in the kinds of inquiries that contribute to the build-up of scientific knowledge and language.
Gelman and Brenneman have served as advisers to Sid the Science Kid since the show’s inception in 2008. As Brenneman illustrates in a YouTube video, PrePS encourages teachers to use words such as “explore” and “predict” as they engage kids. “Preschool-age kids are surprisingly open to scientific inquiry,” Brenneman says. And that inquiry can be timely. Last October an episode of Sid the Science Kid was devoted to the scientific basis for flu vaccinations.
The impetus for Preschool Pathways to Science began when NASA approached Gay Macdonald of UCLA with a request to help develop science-learning opportunities for a pre-K program serving families at an Air Force Base near Los Angeles. Macdonald turned to Gelman who then was on her advisory board and at UCLA to write the proposal. She and UCLA colleague Moisés Román also are co-authors of the book. Subsequent funding was provided by the National Science Foundation. Gelman elaborates on children’s scientific thinking and PrePS in this Q and A interview from Brookes Publishing.