STEAM doesn't just come out of a lab- June 11, 2019

This past week, I joined many other educators in Fairfax County, Virginia for a STEAM Focus Group.

A STEAM focus group?

The purpose of these sessions were to get feedback from STEAM teachers and SBTS for future professional development. During this session, we explored drafts of curriculum documents at multiple grade levels, both individually and collaboratively and came to conclusions which we shared in the name of recommendations. The session was a great opportunity to both learn and network. We all get so busy in our little nooks in schools that we don't always get the chance to see what others are doing in the field. But this type of collaboration and reflection is critical- a huge thank you to @FCPSSTEAM for organizing an opportunity such as this and another thank you to my administration at Vienna Elementary School for recommending me for this group.

What do you see in your mind when you hear the word "STEAM"?

Usually, when I think about STEAM- I think about being in a lab with lots of amazing and interactive design activities. It looks like a place to tinker, explore and learn hands on. But it also can be overwhelming when you first think about it. Coding, robots, 3D printing? It can all sound very complicated and act as a barrier to trying something new.

How can you get started using STEAM?

Remember, STEAM is an acronym for Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics. When we break the word down into separate words, you might notice some words you are already very familiar with like Science, Math and maybe even Technology. So start off and remember you probably know more than you think you do.

#CSinSF- a great place to start

Back in February, while listening to #EduDuctTape, @KarlyMoura introduced me to #csinsf. If you are looking for a great place to start on STEAM, this is it! Check out my February 17, 2019 post on how my littlest learners used the unplugged activities on

So as you can see, teaching STEAM does not always have to start with using technology. With #csinsf, there are so many unplugged lessons you can start with. These lessons help teach your students computational thinking.

Computational thinking helps us take problems, break them up and figure out solutions.

Examples of computational thinking include algorithms (a list of step by step directions), looking at events, examining patterns and sequences. It always amazes me how students respond when we share a more sophisticated words. Here's an example- my first graders learned about events using #csinsf and then created "remotes" to demonstrate events in #Wixie. If the button pushed was blue, then their remote caused them to clap two times.

But isn't STEAM more than just computational thinking?

To the right is the mission statement for STEAM in Fairfax County Public Schools. I love this definition. Its inclusive nature makes us realize that STEAM is not meant to just be a class, a separate entity, but is more of a mindset. It allows our students to be problem solvers, twenty-first century thinkers and much more.

So how can we take some simple steps to bring a STEAM mindset into our classrooms every day?

1. Use CS vocabulary

  • When giving students' directions, share that you are providing them an algorithm for completing a task. I now share algorithms with my technology students for completing tasks.

  • Here is an example of an algorithm I share with my kindergarten students for getting to Wixie. Not only does this promote use of the CS terminology, but also helps students see how step by step directions lead to complete tasks.

2. Have students collaborate to solve problems

  • Whether engaging in a design challenge or solving math problems, have students work together.

  • Give students opportunities to experiment and try new things, without a fear of failure.

  • Allow students to show multiple ways of thinking and solving problems...

Here is an example from my sixth grade classes, students worked together to design apps using Google Slides to solve school problems.

  1. This group determined we needed a school map app-

  2. They worked together as a team to plan how they wanted to display the information.

  3. As they worked, they learned to add pictures

  4. They also learned to use hyperlinks to provide an app like experience/

  5. Through trial and error, they refined their app experience.

  6. They understand designing a work in progress.

3. Incorporate PBL and 21st Century Skills in your lessons.

  • Give students authentic tasks to learn with and from.

  • Allow them to collaborate and learn how to persevere through difficult activities.

  • Be a facilitator or guide on the side.

Here is an example from my second grade classes. Students studied famous Americans and then used @Tinkercad to make monuments for their Famous Americans.

1. Did they need to use a 3D modeling program?

  • No, they could have used anything- even building blocks.

2. What 21st skills did they use?

  • They learned how to persevere and collaborate to learn how to add a second layer.

  • They also learned that during the design process ideas change and evolve.

Remember, these are just a few ways to get started...

Challenge yourself to look for ways to add STEAM into your classroom. It isn't just for the lab. You can embed STEAM into your class all day and any day- just think of how you can amplify your students' opportunites to solve problems and be 21st century thinkers. After all, we are preparing them to jobs that don't yet exist...

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