I started my career at The Shipley School, an independent K-12 school located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, at an innovative and exciting juncture. In 2014, Shipley was starting an engineering course from scratch, and having spent several years in the industry as an engineer and several more as a math and science teacher in Philadelphia-area schools, I jumped at the opportunity to pioneer a new program as an Upper School (grades 9-12) teacher.
At the same time, Shipley was making great strides to build out its STEAM program, which is similar to a STEM program. It includes science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, but also has an added focus on the arts. A STEAM program offers a more holistic approach to education than STEM, marrying subjects that traditionally have been separate–like arts and engineering.
From formalizing plans to create a “MakerSpace” outfitted with 3-D printers to incorporating STEAM projects in classrooms across disciplines, these initiatives underscored Shipley’s mission of developing a love of learning in each student and preparing them for whatever may come beyond the confines of the classroom after high school and college.
Several years later, the STEAM program now includes courses in engineering, robotics, digital fabrication, design fabrication and computer programming, complete with our MakerSpace. The popularity of the program is evident in our enrollment numbers alone–in the first year we had 30 students on our roster. Now we have close to 100–about a quarter of all Upper School students!
So what makes Shipley’s STEAM program so great? Access to cutting-edge technology and the integration of the STEAM curriculum across the School have been integral to success, but above all else, the quality of the program is a result of the administration allowing our students to take the lead on making it their own.
3 Winning Characteristics of Our School’s STEAM Program
1. Create Room to Build
One of the greatest strengths of the STEAM program at Shipley is the MakerSpace, a joint workshop-classroom area reminiscent of the woodshop class you probably took 20 years ago but with a modern spin. Shipley Upper School students aren’t constructing wooden birdhouses though – they’re using a laser engraver, 3-D printers and a plethora of hand tools to bring their ideas to life. Whether it is a mini-golf course for digital fabrication, a guitar for Art class or water filters for Engineering, the students are utilizing the space and equipment.
When I started with Shipley, the MakerSpace was getting started in a small classroom with a 3-D printer, laser engraver and robotics supplies. Our current setup is a MakerSpace with “clean” and “dirty” working spaces. The “clean” space has a traditional classroom setup for up to 18 students, and all of our furniture is modular to suit whatever needs a class has for that day. In addition, we have expanded into an auxiliary classroom where our programming courses are taught and larger projects can be constructed.
This unique asset has opened up many doors for our Upper School students. Several clubs, such as Science Olympiad, have been able to form thanks to the accessibility of the MakerSpace. Students preparing for the Science Olympiad competition use the MakerSpace to create air trajectory machines and build balsa wood towers and an optics testing apparatus. They are able to use this space to prepare, practice and even create the materials for their competitions.
The MakerSpace, above all else, encourages creativity and problem-solving and has given the students the opportunity to learn something new outside their core curriculum and explore interests that could inform their future studies and careers.