The Early Childhood Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Conference – or ECSTEM – is held annually in Pasadena, CA. Hosted by the Children’s Center at Caltech, the two-day conference brings together over 500 early childhood professionals.
“From all accounts, the conference provided many opportunities for professional development – building knowledge, insight, practical applications, and relationships – and the learning continues today,” conference officials said in a release.
June “Pua” Aquino, Preschool Teacher and Cultural Curriculum Specialist for our Ka Paʻalana Homeless Family Education Program, was part of the conference’s national STEM panel.
Pua was chosen for her expertise in implementing culture into STEAM-based curriculum. Her experience serving our homeless and at-risk families on Oʻahu added a unique layer to the panel’s multi-facted background.
This year’s conference panel was comprised of experienced educators working directly with children, implementing STEM concepts into the classroom on a daily basis. The panel’s conversation aimed to inspire and engage the participants in a “practical, inclusive, and meaningful exploration” of what it means to utilize STEM.
Pua recalled the first ECSTEM conference that Ka Paʻalana attended back in 2015. She noticed after the first day that none of the sessions had mentioned culture. “That’s one thing we always try to push [at Ka Paʻalana] is having culture be a part of the STEAM curriculum,” she says.
Since their first presentation, Ka Paʻalana’s culture-based proposals have been consistently accepted by ECSTEM. They present every year, and look forward to the exchange of information between the STEAM professionals.
“Culture is one of the top two things that we do that we can share,” says Kasey Galariada. Kasey is a veteran Family Education Coordinator with Ka Paʻalana and also attended ECSTEM 2019.
She goes on to explain that the other vital part of Ka Paʻalana’s work is making connections with the parents of the keiki they teach. Being able to empower the caregivers to use their own knowledge in the curriculum is powerful, and means that “it sticks.”
“At Ka Paʻalana, we try to validate our parents and caregivers’ experiences,” says Pua. “We tell them things they grew up doing – like weaving or making lau lau – can lead to a learning experience. They can all be teaching moments for their children.”
“Culture is kind of an afterthought with STEM, but looking back in the past to what our ancestors did is just as STEAM-y or STEM-y as what it is today. It’s their version, it’s the raw version of STEM.”