33 SES 16, Gender in preschool education
Gender biased choices leading to uneven participation of women and men in science are seen as a problem, making researchers look for answers at the school level. However, early results from this study, concerning emergent science and gendering processes in preschool, point at the importance of also looking at preschool for understanding these issues. The aim of the larger study this paper is part of is to explore how scientific content and other agents in preschool co-create gendering processes and what the effects might be for children’s learning. In this paper, the children’s own choices of where to be and what to do in an indoor environment in a preschool are being explored. The main questions for the paper are: What kind of scientific learning processes was explored by the children and how?, What kind of identities and status were possible for different children?
Science in preschool is of great interest in many countries in Europe (Cremin et al. 2015), however not as often with a focus on gender. In studies where both gender and scientific content are taken into account the most common is to focus on the teachers (see for example Areljung et al. 2016; Gullberg et al. 2016; Hallström et al. 2015). In the field of emergent science, in which this study takes it’s starting point, the focus is on children as capable of creating scientific knowledge as well as exploring science during play, also without the presence of, or initiative from adults (Areljung, 2016; Larsson, 2013; Siraj-Blatchford, 2001; Siry, 2013). By explicitly analyzing gendering processes in this study, an empirical and theoretical contribution is made to this field.
As already mentioned, the context of this paper is the children’s play and explorations in an indoor environment. The teachers in the preschool of the study arranged an environment consisting of “unfinished” materials that the children could transform (like materials for construction, aesthetics and creative play) and an environment where the children could meet each other. The teachers included all knowledge areas presented in the curricula (such as science, language, mathematics, music, drama and arts) in the indoor environments different spaces. Then the children got to choose where to be and what to do by a choosing-system called the “activity-wall” (explained in the paper). An environment like this one, with the purpose to give the children various opportunities for play and learning, filled with unfinished materials without explicit aims, can be related to the Swedish curricula, saying that teachers in preschool shall counteract gender stereotypical roles among the children, as well as taking children’s opportunity’s to influence and their interests seriously (Skolverket, 2016).
As theoretical framework new materialist philosophy, with a specific focus on Karen Barads theory of agential realism (Barad, 2003, 2007, 2014) is being used. From this perspective nothing is ever stable and fixed in any essential way, rather everything is always becoming (Barad, 2014). That is, there are no pre-existing things, humans or identities. Instead there are relations creating phenomena - such as for example humans and knowledge. Barad calls these relations intra-activity, that is, material-discursive entanglements from which everything takes shape and acts (Barad, 2003). Another important concept for the study is Barads knowing-in-being. Barad (2007) understands processes of becoming as always mutual and entangled with processes of knowing. Along with Barads theory I am also making use of Sara Ahmed’s (2010) concept of orientations to strengthening the focus on gendering. Ahmed discusses gender differences as differences in (repeated) orientations, as well as orientations (like choices we make) as always created together with earlier orientations, made for generations (Ahmed, 2010).
In the project, a field study was conducted at a preschool in a middle class area outside a bigger city in Sweden in a group of 25 children aged 4-5 years old. During the field study, participant observations, including video recordings and field notes, were made over a period of 5 months. On average I visited the preschool twice a week (shifting from 2 - 6 hours each). In total 12 hours of video was recorded. The field notes consist of 40 computer written pages when digitalized. Both the video sequences and field notes were first sorted according to the places in the preschool where they were constructed. In the early stage of the analysis, the data for each place was worked through, looking for repetitive doings as well as for what could be understood as unusual or unexpected for that place, activity, content or children. For this paper I am focusing on the 3 hours of film recorded at the drawing tables and construction room, as well as the field notes concerning the same places. Minor parts of data from other places in the preschool will be considered to construct a context and wider perspective. In forthcoming analyses the theoretical concepts will be used to think together with different parts of the data, with the aim of both making detailed analyses of certain parts and events, as well as analyzing the indoor environment in a broader sense. For the analysis Barad’s diffractive methodology and diffractive readings (Barad, 2007, 2014) is used. Diffractive readings refers to reading different insights through one another (Barad, 2003). In this paper Sara Ahmed’s (2010) notion of orientations is read through Barad’s agential realism to develop the theoretical foundation.
I am currently in the process of analysing how the choosing system (called the activity wall), together with other agents (material and discursive) in the preschool co-created the children’s “free” choices concerning where to be and what to do. Even though the choices were made in an indoor environment, thought of as “gender neutral” and offering various opportunities for learning, the children spend a lot of time in the same places during the whole field study, doing almost the same or things. Some of the girls often spend their time at the “drawing tables” while some of the boys were most often in a room where smaller construction material was held. The aim with the activity-wall was to let the children choose freely and have many opportunities. However, thinking with Barad (2003, 2007), there are no such things as “own” choices or “own” interests. Rather the children’s choices and interests can be seen as material-discursive phenomena, always entangled with earlier orientations (Ahmed, 2010), with the effects of (repetitive) separation between bodies, identities, materials and explorations. The outcomes of the analysis are expected to include numerous examples of how (all) the children were exploring emergent science in different ways, however with different outcomes due to mutual gendering processes. That children explore emergent science during play does not mean they all automatically will think of themselves as scientific, now or in the future, or will be thought of as scientific by others. The expected outcomes indicate the importance of teacher’s gender awareness, including never relying on any environment, activity or choice to be neutral, as well as challenging children’s activities and including an openness for the possibility that children explore emergent science in unexpected (for the teachers) ways, places and situations. These issues will be further discussed in the paper.
Ahmed, S. (2010). Orientations Matter. In D. Coole, H. & S. Frost (Eds.), New Materialisms: Duke university press. Areljung, S. (2016). Science verbs as a tool for investigating scientific phenomena : A pedagogical idea emerging from practitioner-researcher collaboration. NorDiNa: Nordic Studies in Science Education, 12(2). Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Signs, 28(3), 801-831. Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway. Quantum physics of the entanglement of matter and meaning. London: Duke Universal Press. Barad, K. (2014). Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart. Parallax, 20(3), 168-187. doi:10.1080/13534645.2014.927623 Cremin, T., Glauert, E., Craft, A., Compton, A., & Stylianidou, F. (2015). Creative Little Scientists: exploring pedagogical synergies between inquiry-based and creative approaches in Early Years science. Education 3-13, 43(4), 404-419. doi:10.1080/03004279.2015.1020655 de Freitas, E., & Palmer, A. (2015). How scientific concepts come to matter in early childhood curriculum: rethinking the concept of force. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 1-22. doi:10.1007/s11422-014-9652-6 Gullberg, A., Andersson, K., Danielsson, A., Scantlebury, K., & Hussénius, A. (2016). Pre-service teachers' views of the child - Reproducing or challenging gender stereotypes in science in preschool. Research in Science Education. doi:10.1007/s11165-016-9593-z Hallström, J., Elvstrand, H., & Hellberg, K. (2015). Gender and technology in free play in Swedish early childhood education. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 25(2), 137-149. doi:10.1007/s10798-014-9274-z Larsson, J. (2013). Contextual and Conceptual Intersubjectivity and Opportunities for Emergent Science Knowledge About Sound. International Journal of Early Childhood, 45(1), 101-122. doi:10.1007/s13158-012-0078-6 Siraj-Blatchford, J. (2001). Emergent science and technology in the early years. Paper presented at the XXIII World Congress of OMEP. Retrieved from www.327matters.org/Docs/omepabs.pdf, Santiago, Chile. Siry, C. (2013). Exploring the Complexities of Children’s Inquiries in Science: Knowledge Production Through Participatory Practices. Research in Science Education, 43(6), 2407-2430. doi:10.1007/s11165-013-9364-z Skolverket. (2016). Läroplan för förskolan Lpfö98 [Ny, rev. utg.]. . Stockholm: Skolverket.
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