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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The STEAM Year

Students demonstrate whistles they made during an Art class STEAM project.

I've been studying and trying out STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) teaching for the past four or five years.

The efforts started in earnest when I watched my next-door colleague engage students with a large number of online/offline STEAM tools and pedagogy. Her students were engaged, empowered, and excited about learning and I wanted to know more. The more I continue to watch this colleague, I realize that it's her blend of content knowledge, professional learning, student relationships, and emphases on character, teamwork, and investigation that make her an exceptional, well-loved educator.

Then, on an airplane ride to California, I drafted a STEAM lab proposal by making a short film. I presented that idea to a team at The Intersection event. They provided great feedback.

After that I continued to learn about STEAM at workshops and edcamps. I spoke to colleagues and leaders about our STEAM efforts at school too. Colleagues and I wrote grants. Some were accepted and some were not.

Then this year, I had my first chance to really dig into STEAM as a math/science fifth grade teacher. Though math took priority given the systemwide goals and common core, we still built in time to learn about a few STEAM stars, study science concepts, and engage in STEAM exploration and project base learning.

All year I struggled with the STEAM center trying to get it just right. It's better and has developed over time, but there's still room for improvement. I also struggled with the project base learning due to time constraints and the fact that this was the first time I engaged in many of the projects we did. Projects always benefit from experience. Overall, though, I am convinced that STEAM is a valuable and critical way to learn at the early ages as it gives students a terrific opportunity to get early experience and interest in hands-on, collaborative, investigative learning.

High quality STEAM study, however, depends on space, supplies, team, and knowledge. I think it's important for system leadership and educators to discuss these needs and craft STEAM study that matches school system context and goals. With this in mind, I have the following STEAM recommendations.
  • Think carefully about STEAM staff and professional learning/experience. Some school systems have staff dedicated to STEAM. The advantage to this is that these staff members can become experts at STEAM teaching/learning while also taking care of all the supplies and facilities that support this teaching.
  • Make sure that STEAM classrooms/labs have adequate supplies and space for optimal project work.
  • Decide how you will integrate new science standards with STEAM teaching/learning.
  • Identify, study, and teach the "learning-to-learn" skills such as teamwork that support good STEAM teaching/learning.
  • Create collegial collaborative teams to support one another with STEAMwork
  • Identify and attend high-quality STEAM workshops, courses, and conferences to build faculty knowledge and expertise in this area. 
  • Read great books about STEAM teaching/learning.
  • Create outdoor classroom spaces to support STEAM too. 
Last year teachers at each grade level planned to teach one common STEAM unit. We had one day to discuss the plans for the project. It would be interesting to hear how that worked out across district. Also this summer, our system is hosting a STEAM Institute which is open to all interested teachers (join us!). I'm interested in learning more at that event. I'm also curious as to how our system will roll out STEAM teaching/learning efforts in the year to come. 

I remain interested in STEAM teaching/learning, yet I'm also a fan of streamlining educators' role and responsibilities for greater depth. My assignment for the year ahead has still not been decided, but once I know my grade-level and focus, I'll be able to dig into the teaching/learning goals for the year ahead. Goals that may or may not include STEAM.

Note: The Marble Maze Project was one of our successful projects this year. The Global Cardboard Challenge and Favorite Place in Nature projects were also successful. 

Student Video introducing the Happy Hollow Arcade