When you look at this picture, what do you see? This is what STEAM learning means to me, an engaged, problem-solving, and independent learner who explores concepts through planning, creating, testing, observing, and analyzing (among other things). With some string, straws, balloons, and paper, you can create endless challenges that are fun AND align to the standards for your district. When planning these STEAM lessons, here’s some tips to keep in mind so your students can have fun and learn fascinating concepts at the same time.
Let real life inspire you. Do you have to design a new shoe for a famous basketball player? Try to get a spaceship to land safely on Mars? Planning a bake sale and need to know how many cookies to make? The creative scenarios to plan around are endless, and using real-life scenarios help to bring relevance to your lessons as well as the hook to keep kids pushing when they face challenges (and there may be some with open-ended materials).
Keep it simple. It’s nice to have the latest and greatest technology, and depending on the lesson, it may be necessary. However, you don’t want to overwhelm kids with too much too soon in this regard. Take slow steps so that it’s memorable. Another way of keeping it simple is by using everyday materials at home. I’ll never forget when I showed students the power of air pressure by filling a glass nearly filled with water and a paper plate, turning it upside down and amazingly nothing spills out unless the plate is moved so that air can fill the cup again as the water leaves. These are things that kids will go home and try over and over, becoming lasting memories that’ll guide them to hopefully choose STEAM-related careers.
Integrate. STEAM lessons aren’t just ramped up science or math lessons with an activity. They take things a step further by seamlessly integrating science, technology, engineering, art/design, and math into the process. So instead of just learning about Newton’s laws of motion, have kids design a vehicle that will carry their passenger safely down the ramp and to their destination without incident for a well-known car company. Then kids have to understand how forces work to keep things in motion or in place, the best designs for a car with the materials they have, how to create the parts that will move together, the overall distance it’ll have to travel, and the overall appearance of the car. That’s STEAM wrapped in a nutshell.
Get Help. Ask parents to save or donate commonly used tools for lessons (e.g. tissue rolls, straws, tape, paper, buttons, squeeze pouch tops, water bottles, balloons). Recruit parent or community volunteers to help implement lessons. Partner with local high school, college, or STEAM-related businesses. Research programs that fit your academic situation. Use a simple engineering design process (e.g. research, develop, test, and evaluate) It takes a bit of planning and initiative, but don’t think you have to do this alone.
Teamwork makes the dream [lesson] work. Gone are the days that engineers and others sit behind their desks alone all day, every day, turning in assignments like clockwork. In most working environments, teamwork is vital to producing at a high level and it’s a daily part of the job. Even more so, students should expect to collaborate to solve the problems raised in each lesson.
Let go. Oftentimes there is the idea that there has to be one correct answer or one specific way of implementing STEAM lessons in the classroom. While maintaining instructional control, allow students to show you what they can come up with and trust their ability to apply concepts taught to create a workable solution. Most learn best from successes and failures, or as I like to call them in STEAM lessons approximations towards success.
How have these tips helped you? Share below.