Past Conferences

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  • The Early Childhood STEM Institute | March 21-23 – Virtual & On-Demand

    In March 2022, Region 9 Head Start Association presented their annual Early Childhood STEM Institute. The STEM Institute was delivered virtually and offered On-Demand options for attendees. Sessions were offered in both English and Spanish. This year the STEM Institute focused on educator’s discovery and love for science, technology, engineering, and math to nurture young learners and their families. With the overall theme “Educators as Seekers.”

    Day 1 featured keynote speaker, Ernie Mendes, an organizational psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist. Mendes has consulted in early education for over 15 years and is the author of three books: Empty the Cup…before you fill it up; Engage 4 learning; and Virtual Engagement. Mendes presented on “Being our Best Self in the Classroom & Managing Disruptive Behavior”.

    Mendes focused on the return to in-person teaching, which has been accompanied by more disruptive behaviors in the classroom. Mendes explains how innovation, problem solving, and critical thinking creates meaning in our lives and presented attendees with practical ideas to use personally and with their students to future possibilities.

    On the second day of the STEM institute, the general session was led by keynote speaker Dr. Chip Donohue. Donohue is a founding director of the Technology in Early Childhood at the Erikson Institute and a senior fellow of the Fred Rogers Center. Donohue’s keynote addressed “What changed? What won’t change? What is the role of technology beyond the pandemic? A call to action for seekers in the next new normal”.

    Dr. Donohue explored what was lost and found due to the pandemic and identified silver linings as Head Start programs introduced technology as an essential tool to connect, communicate, and strengthen relationships. He
    explains how the role of technology changed as educators integrated it in a more intentional way for learning and family engagement. Prompting educators to make connections between what they used to do, what they learned and what they can do moving forward to the next new normal.

    On the third day, Keynote speaker Wendy Ward Hoffer addressed “Cultivating STEM Identities”. Hoffer is a former math and science teacher who is currently a Senior Director, Content Development & Publications at PEBC. She is also the author of four books on teaching math and science for understanding.

    Hoffer’s session taught the importance of having a positive regard for STEM, by looking into the forces that may dispel people from STEM topics. Hoffer then explained ways to embrace math and science and how to inspire educators to introduce young learners to their power as problem solvers and thinkers.

    The STEM Institute also offered attendees with a variety of labs and breakout sessions. Labs covered topics from “Inspiring Minds” to “STEM & Creativity in the Outdoor Classroom”. Breakout sessions were offered in both English and Spanish with sessions covering topics ranging from “Setting the Stage for Learning; Intentional Environments” to “STEM is All Around Me!”

  • The Early Childhood STEM Institute | April 12-14 – Virtual & On-Demand

    Given Head Start programs were yet impacted by the pandemic, Region 9 Head Start Association presented this year’s conference online. With the Early Childhood STEM Institute bringing the joy of learning in a tangible and hands-on way for the entire Head Start community, this conference appropriately had the theme of “STEM at Home.” The following is a summary of the keynote speakers and their covered topics.

    Day 1 keynote address “Children As Explorers—Dreaming Big: An Astronaut’s Journey to the Stars” featured former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, M.S., who weaved for participants his journey, from a migrant farmworker to a flight engineer on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. Along the way, he highlighted the importance of early childhood development, solid study habits instilled at a very young age by his mom, the importance of parental empowerment and developing a plan for success.

    The next speaker was Diana Wehrell-Grabowski, Ph.D., an educational consultant, specializing in science and STEM content. She has more than 30 years’ experience in education as a full-time science teacher, adjunct professor and owner of a science education consulting company.

    Her General Session presentation “Children as Observers of Science—Fostering Curiosity and Creativity Through STEM Learning Experiences at Home” was based on the fact that children are natural-born scientists who are curious about the world around them. Using an interactive presentation where participants were guided through simple, playful STEM-based explorations, Dr. Werell-Grabowski demonstrated how parents and educators can foster young children’s natural curiosity and creativity at home and school.

    In the Day 2 General Session, husband-and-wife team of Dr. Doug Clements and Dr. Julie Sarama presented “Children as Curiosity Seekers—Learning Trajectories for Teachers and Professional Developers.” Dr. Clements, a professor at the University of Denver, holds the Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning. Dr. Sarama, also a professor at the University of Denver, holds the Kennedy Endowed Chair of Innovative Learning Technologies University of Denver.

    As early math evangelists for providing children with fun tools to explore and learn complex subjects, Dr. Clements and Dr. Sarama have used their own experience teaching and years of investigating how young people learn mathematics to develop the Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories (LTLT) tool. According to them, children follow natural developmental progressions in learning. There are sequences of activities that are effective in guiding children through these levels of thinking and these developmental paths are the basis for what they call learning trajectories. They showed how the LTLT tool is a resource for trainers and teachers in understanding children’s thinking and why specific activities develop that thinking.

    What does the evidence say about early childhood education? In a Day 2 presentation, “Evidence Says!—Early Childhood STEM,” Assistant Professor Andres Sebastian Bustamante, Ph.D., of U.C. Irvine’s School of Education, reported on the latest research in early STEM education and provided examples of high-quality programs and activities. His presentation covered each of the four areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and recommended accessible resources for classrooms.

    Dr. Bustamante told conference participants that STEM is everywhere. He showed how extra planning and intentionality can deepen and extend the early STEM experiences that are already happening. He explained how he designs and implements play-based early childhood STEM activities where children and families spend time, such as parks, school yards, grocery stores. These designed activities—which incorporate learning across school-readiness domains of language, literacy and social emotional developmenttake advantage of children’s natural drive to understand the world around them.

    High School senior Ahmed Muhammad in a Day 2 General Session spoke about “Children as Experimenters.” The Oakland Tech student is the founder of Kits Cubed, an initiative to engage and ignite every child’s scientific imagination. An aspiring scientist, Ahmed attributes his love for science to his early, hands-on experiences with STEM at local summer and after-school programs.

    Muhammad detailed how he was inspired to use his love for science to better our communities. Seeing a lack of science resources at his school, he created Kits Cubed, a youth-led, nonprofit organization whose mission is “to introduce youth to the wonders of science through fun, affordable, and accessible means.” The company designs, assembles, and distributes hands-on science projects for elementary school children. The science kits are purposefully designed to require little to no internet or computer access and are created to be both fun and affordable.

    Highlight of Day 3 was the General Session with renowned paleontologist and children’s TV host Scott D. Sampson, Ph.D. He is executive director of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Dr. Sampson left teaching at the University of Utah to join the museum, where he leads its programs of scientific research, sustainability and education. Dr. Sampson’s mission is to bring awareness to what has been called the “nature deficit disorder.” Children nowadays, he said, are spending less time outside and this threatens their health and the health of the planet. The average North American child fills seven to 10 hours a day gazing at screens and closer to seven minutes playing outdoors. This new reality has been labeled “the extinction of experience.”

    In his presentation, “Children as Science Leaders: How to Raise a Wild Child,” Dr. Sampson offered simple tools freely available that any parent, teacher or caregiver can use to connect the children in their lives with nature and awaken a deep sense of wonder. “We need to interject more of the natural world in formal and informal learning,” Dr. Sampson said.

  • The Early Childhood STEM Institute | March 25 – 27 – Hilton Pasadena, Pasadena CA

    With the theme “Children As Conservators,” this conference focused on understanding that young children have the intellectual capacity to develop scientific skills and knowledge. Piaget called this the theory of conservation, in which the child realizes that properties of objects—such as mass, volume, and number—remain the same, despite changes in the form of the objects. Participants learned how to engage children in hands-on learning that is based on asking questions about their natural environment and then finding the answers; the latest developments in early childhood STEM education research and practice; and techniques to promote school readiness for a smooth transition to elementary school and provide a foundation for further STEM learning.

    The opening keynote address was by Judy Harris Helm, EdD is a national and international speaker and trainer on project work, engaged learning, documentation, and school design. Dr. Helm served as the educational planner for three early childhood centers and two birth–8th-grade community schools. She helps teachers of preschool through 3rd grade to integrate research into their curricula.

    Los Angeles-based filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, a speaker and change-maker, provided closing remarks. Mullick’s short film Caine’s Arcade became a viral phenomenon in 2012, receiving millions of views and changing the life of one creative 9-year-old boy. Following Caine’s Arcade, Nirvan founded to foster creativity for children worldwide and created a Global Cardboard Challenge that has since engaged over 1 million children in 80 countries. now supports more than 150 Chapters in 20 countries, providing kids with time for creative play weekly.

  • The Early Childhood STEM Institute | May 7-9 – The Garland Hotel, North Hollywood, CA

    With the theme “Children as Adventurers,” this three-day institute, offered attendees a variety of opportunities to gain knowledge from listening, doing, playing, and networking with their peers.  In addition to traditional workshops, the Early Learning STEM Institute featured a simulated Anji play experience. Workshops included promoting scientific inquiry with infants and toddlers; developing children’s STEM higher-order thinking skills through the creation of a vertical vegetable garden; story-time engineering to bridge literacy and STEM; how to successfully incorporate STEM activities in the outdoor environment and panel discussions with Early Childhood STEM Experts on the future of math and science in early education.

    Chinese educator Cheng Xueqin gave the keynote address on “Exploring Anji Play.” Xuequin developed the internationally recognized philosophy and approach to early learning. Anji Play is the curriculum of the 130 public kindergartens in Anji County, China serving more than 14,000 children from ages 3 to 6.

    Dr. Osnat Zur provided the closing session remarks, speaking on “Supporting Early STEM Thinking and Learning: The Critical Role of Teachers.” Zur, a developmental psychologist, with expertise in children’s cognitive development, focusing primarily on the development of mathematical and scientific reasoning, is a Senior Program Associate with the Center for Child & Family Studies at WestEd.  She serves as Project Director as part of WestEd’s collaboration with the National Center for Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning. Her remarks provided examples of developmentally appropriate, playful early learning STEM experiences.


  • The Early Childhood STEM Institute | March 27- 29 – Whitney Peak Hotel, Reno NV

    The theme of the 2017 STEM Institute was Children as Inventors. With this in mind, a number of elements have been added to support Head Start education staff to navigate new knowledge and experiences supporting innovation in our environments. The conference included a number of hands-on workshops, a model classroom environment based on the resource books, Loose Parts, and a Curriculum Fair.

    The opening keynote address. “The Importance of Engaging Young Students in Science,” was given by Dr. David T. Crowther, University of Nevada, Reno. Crowther is a Professor of Science Education at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Director of the Raggio Research Center for STEM Education at UNR. He has five years of experience teaching at the elementary-middle level as well as summer teaching at the 8- 12th grade level in biology. He served as president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the largest science/STEM teacher organization in the world. His presentation focused on engaging in STEM practices because they are an essential part of both a  formal and informal education for all students and it must begin at a very early age.

    The conference’s closing keynote presentation was by Amanda Bryans, Office of Head Start, where she has worked for more than 27 years, including five years as the Disabilities Services and Education Coordinator, and five years as the Director of the Albany, NY Head Start program. She recently oversaw the development of the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework and contributed to writing the newly released Head Start Program Performance Standards. She focused on exploring new opportunities embedded in the new Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) and Head Start’s Early Learning Outcomes Framework (HSELOF).

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