Chain Reactions: Integrating STEM to Encourage Creativity and Problem Solving in Early Childhood Education


At Birch Family Services, school doesn’t stop with the last day before summer vacation — well, maybe it does for the students. But Birch education staff have ample opportunities to pursue professional development and specialized courses conducted by our expert Training Department during the summer.

Recently, Birch Workforce Training and Development Coordinator Margaret Chiara conducted a workshop devoted to incorporating STEM-based learning across early childhood curriculum. STEM education isn’t just the sum of the four areas — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — that define its acronym. Rather, in STEM-based education, the four subjects are married to create a cohesive learning paradigm. In the workshop, Margaret, who has more than twenty-five years of experience working with children and adults with a range of abilities, demonstrated that, when incorporated into daily school exercises, the four subject areas encourage real-world problem solving, team work and collaboration with peers, engaged learners, creativity, and opportunities to safely fail and try again.

Workshop participants, including teachers, teachers assistants and therapists from Birch’s early childhood centers, learned how to integrate STEM in their classrooms through a series of tabletop exercises that emphasized the STEM process of Problem, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Make It Better. The exercises included creating variations on the Rube Goldberg Machine, a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation that triggers a chain reaction. Building a Rube Goldberg Machine incorporates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — not to mention art, teamwork, and perseverance. In the classroom, students use cooperation and communication to apply their knowledge from across the spectrum of STEM learning.

Following the workshop, many participants said that they’ll incorporate more hands-on activities incorporating the components of  STEM and embrace student’s creativity. “This was a fun and engaging workshop! I am motivated to use the activities presented,” said one teacher in a follow-up survey.

Workshop trainer Margaret holds a Masters in Early Childhood from Teachers College, Columbia University; administration certificates from New York State; and is a NY State Licensed and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. As one of the newer members of the Birch Family Services Training Team Margaret has expanded the agency’s course offerings and helped to establish Birch as a provider of NYSED CTLEs.


The Birch Training Department team is a group of highly trained professionals, all of whom are profoundly committed to provide training, support, and guidance to those working in the field of autism and development disabilities. The team comprises trainers and consultants who come from a wide range of disciplines, including education, psychology, speech/language, adult services, and administration. Our staff works with school districts, agencies, service providers, parents and individuals, and offers a variety of courses to enhance the skill sets of staff working with students with autism and developmental disabilities and their families.

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