Sunday, May 25, 2014

Learning by Immersion: STEAM

Ms. Cherwinski's TEAM 16 at SCRATCH Event
One part of teaching that I love is the learning--it's a sport for me, and as I look forward to next year, I look forward to investing myself in the teaching and learning of science and math with depth. This focus reminds me that there is an atmospheric dimension to learning. This is usually related to learning that is secondary, not your first purpose. First step, prioritized learning takes on a more structured, dynamic route. In the past few years, I've felt this atmospheric learning related to STEAM, and now I'm ready to pull all those pieces together as I reach forward to a primarily math and science 5th grade program next year.

Student Interest and STEAM Study
One group of students that's the most difficult to meet in elementary school is our very bright high-tech students--mostly boys and a growing number of girls who gravitate towards all things related to building, tech, and science.  These are the students who often prefer collecting worms to playing football, building with legos over table hockey, and Minecraft afterschool rather than basketball.  In the old days, these students were very resistant when it came to writing and paper/pencil tasks, but now with the onset of computers, that's not always the case as many of these students readily craft multimedia compositions using Google, Microsoft, and other apps and tools.

Similarly computers and programs such as SCRATCH and Khan Academy coding have given students like this a collaborative, creative, and challenging outlet they gravitate to with strength and learning. These students are also always creating, and if your classrooms have the materials for building and design, they find what they need to make all kinds of inventions. Next year, as I move to fifth grade science and math teaching, I hope to have an even better maker station with lots of materials for the exploration of life science, simple machines, chemistry, and more.  I look forward to lots of play and exploration this summer with that in mind, and the opportunity to seek out and study references that blend science and math teaching in interdisciplinary, real-world ways.

Colleagues, Conferences, and the News
Ms. Cherwinski's students, parents, and even one of my
students attended thanks to her invitation. 
Colleagues and leaders all around us are talking about the need for greater STEAM teaching and learning.  It's demonstrated in the news, online, and at conferences all the time.  We all see a growing number of student events, clubs, and activities rooted in STEAM.  Just last week, my next-door-neighbor colleague, Susan Cherwinski, met a number of students at MIT's SCRATCH DAY.  Not only did the students learn, but she brought back many new ideas for her classroom. One way Ms. Cherwinski shares ideas is to invite other classes in to see and learn from her students. Just this week we visited her class to learn about new ideas for our endangered species projects. The learning and creative exchange was dynamic. Later we'll visit again as her students teach mine how to use Makey Makey and other science-tech tools funded by our school's PTO to learn and explore science.

Also, just about a year ago, I had the chance to share my STEAM ideas and questions with some of the world's leading science-tech innovators at The Intersection Event  at a Google round table.  Their response to my proposal was challenging, but today, about a year later, as I think about their responses, their words hold more understanding and forward movement for me.  Similar learning came a year before that as I listened to Gary Stager explain the Maker Movement at Educon 2.4. Then recently Ms. Cherwinsk and I got more inspiration at the Poughkeepsie Day Workshop. Also, Mr. Musselman, Burlington's science teacher is a source of constant inspiration and support.

Standards, Tools, and Processes
New science standards and focus, multiple new tech tools online and off, and more readily available research and project information online is also forwarding this atmospheric learning.  Over the summer, I'll make trips to local design and engineering shops to collect good materials.  Just recently I met a materials engineer who may be a good resource with this in mind, and may be willing to come in and talk to the class next year.  I'll also spend some time reading and researching online to learn about maker stations, supplies, and activities. Online, I'll take a look at Gizmos, a study site our school subscribes too.  I'll also take another look at Tynker.  I already know that SCRATCH will be a mainstay since the students know and love it so well that they practically speak SCRATCH. I'm sure that other tools, processes and programs will come my way too.  And we'll continue this year's River study with the Audubon Association.

There is much to learn in the weeks ahead, and I plan to immerse myself in the areas of math and science as I move forward and follow my students as they move a year ahead. I'm hoping that Ms. Cherwinski and her new kindergarten assignment will buddy with us regularly to extend this exploration as well.