EX-PED-LAB- Sustainable designs for Early Childhood Education Professional

The project EX-PED-LAB is first and foremost a response to the call for generating scholarly knowledge about exploration as a methodology for early childhood education

The project EX-PED-LAB is first and foremost a response to the call for generating scholarly knowledge about exploration as a methodology for delivering collaborative and responsive pedagogical program design to support early childhood education innovation in kindergartens, kindergarten teacher education and in practice-oriented research in Norway.

EX-PED-LAB is the short name for ‘Exploration and Pedagogical Innovation Laboratory’ and refers to how the use of workshop methodology can create change and innovation in pedagogical practice in Norwegian early years institutions and teacher education kindergartens and in universities educating staff for ECEC work life.

Our workshops bring together teachers, managers, students, and researchers – and occasionally artists, designers, children, and families – for joint exploration and co-creation. The project takes on a whole institution of approaches where sustainability is embedded in all processes and operations. Staff and students will meet the topic in curriculums, frameworks, and strategic institutional documents. Tasks will respond to these as well as to participants experiences of success, tensions, and worries. These experiences are reformulated by an interdisciplinary team consisting of local authorities, kindergarten management staff and researchers.

Interdisciplinary co-creation in early childhood education

The interdisciplinary teams will negotiate and develop nudging activities which are inquiry based and include play qualities and explorative engagement. The workshop activities are designed in loops, including preparatory tasks, exploration and imagination activities, design thinking, co-creation of ideas and experiments, documentation, and evaluation. There will always be reflexivity tasks included (e.g., oral, artistic expressive, narrative writings, questionnaires or focus group dialogues). For example, the project “Kindergarten teacher as co-researcher – innovation project for testing an exploratory research design for knowledge development in the kindergarten sector”, was funded by the Regional Research Fund in 2019 (RFFVEST – 305594) and served as pilot scheme in 2019-2021 (Birkeland et al., 2022; Ødegaaard et al., 2022).

The pilot scheme gave some ideas to success criteria and wicked tensions and problems (Ødegaard, in print). In bringing together interdisciplinary groups in participatory research, new thinking and the building of a sustainable future oriented educational system can be achieved in the early childhood education and in teacher education (Birkeland et al., 2020; Birkeland et al., 2021; Bærheim et al., 2022; Wals, 2014).

On this background the project for 2021-2025 concentrates on gaining a meta perspective on workshops as methodology.  Aspects of sustainability will be reflected in pedagogical cultures and environment in the materials used. The project is a response to findings and recommendations in the final report from the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014): Shaping the Future We Want). The report recommended that research and assessment on local ESD policy approaches was strengthened (UN-2014).

EX-PED-LAB provides research, assessment, and a toolbox on how municipalities can engage directly with local kindergarten institutions; how teachers can work with staff development through workshop methodology; how teacher education might provide additional leverage to meet their sustainability commitments and strengthen cultures of exploration; and inquiry-based approaches to teaching and change to achieve goals for better quality, both in pedagogical and physical environments in kindergarten and teacher education.

So, what do we do?

Some of the workshops take an academic approach to early childhood education. They involve analysis and response to work prepared by the participants, which may entail observations, drawings, stories, photographs, and films. Others will take a practical approach whereby individuals use their imagination and try out different solutions, using materials and play qualities (Guddiksen & Skovbjerg, 2020). We have been working in the landscape where a new kindergarten is planned to be built, creating imaginary scenarios with natural materials on site and discussing risk, rules, and regulation afterwards, to see…

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