Teaching both Spanish and STEAM at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, Penn., Rachelle Dene Poth launched the latter efforts to help students learn about emerging technology. Yet even her language students make use of her skill set, designing virtual reality experiences around vocabulary words, making use of the technology to enhance their own language learning during the last school year.
“Of the things I do in STEAM, 75% I do in Spanish,” Poth told Education Dive. “It’s a nice overlap.”
The grouping of science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics in the acronym STEAM is an attempt to bring multiple disciplines together in one curriculum, enhancing students’ education. Teachers like Poth believe any educator can incorporate STEAM subjects into their classrooms to help develop problem-solving, collaboration and critical thinking skills in students.
The trick is to forget the notion the STEAM projects need expensive tools or any technology know-how at all. Instead, administrators can encourage educators to start small.
No heavy machinery needed
Poth knows that teachers can feel intimidated or even overwhelmed when they first think of the idea of STEAM. Some may think they need to program a robot, write code, or have a 3D printer in their classroom before they can start. But STEAM concepts can be tapped with few tools, sourcing a number of great ideas online. Poth, for example, likes web sites including BrainPOP, Be Internet Awesome and 21 Things 4 Students, which have tech tutorials not just for students — but for teachers, too.
Andrea Kantrowitz is a big fan of buying supplies at a corner hardware store rather than from online STEAM shops. The assistant professor of arts education at the State University of New York at New Paltz points teachers toward coin cell batteries and LED lights — tools that can be picked up for a dollar or two. She encourages educators to buy tools on their own rather than picking up pre-packaged kits that she says can cost $20 each.
“Take a production mindset rather than a consumer mindset,” Kantrowitz told Education Dive.
Kantrowitz believes that art teachers, in particular, are well-positioned to weave STEAM learning into lessons. She admits, though, that in art you can always “fudge it” if a project is working or not. Typically in science projects, however, the formula works or doesn’t, and the light turns on or not. But she said that’s a plus: In fact, she often assigns simple STEAM projects to her art classes, such as making a card that incorporates an LED light, because there’s an obvious result when the assignment works.
“It’s so satisfying when the light turns on,” she said. “And that begins the motivation to tackle more complex projects.”
Share with peers
Educators can also tap into resources that may be sitting in the classroom next door. Lisa Nyberg, a professor emerita at California State University, Fresno’s Kremen School of Education and Human Development, is a big fan of peer sharing, where teachers talk about ideas, apps and lessons they’ve tried during faculty meetings or grade-level team groups.
Nyberg believes teachers should try to be “active learners,” Nyberg told Education Dive. By that, she means going into classrooms where STEAM projects are running and getting involved instead of just listening to a lesson. Nyberg also says teachers shouldn't feel that every element of STEAM needs to be met for a project to work.
“What’s important with STEAM is that STEAM is not a box to check,” she said.
Nyberg recalled a 3rd-grade class that created candy cane reindeers with stick-on eyes and pipe cleaner antlers to sell to classmates. They used the profit to next build artistic dream catchers, selling those as well. Students didn’t pull out soldering irons and calculate the distance between the sticker eyes before they attached them to the candy toys, but she said they still engineered the products regardless. And to her, that was a successful STEAM class.
“I want eyes to spark, brows to furrow, and kids wriggling in their seats, wanting to ask questions and being engaged,” she said. “That’s the kind of kids we want out in the work force — kids who learn how to investigate and are active participants in those solutions.”