STEAM coding

3 winning characteristics of a school STEAM program

Full STEAM ahead: How one Philadelphia-area school is engaging students in new ways.

2. Focus on Collaboration and Integration

Although there is a designated STEAM faculty at Shipley, there has been a great deal of buy-in from the School community. One major goal of the program is to integrate use of the MakerSpace into other curriculums. The reason behind this is simple–the use of the MakerSpace should not end with the STEAM classes a student takes.

The STEAM faculty encourages teachers and students to make use of the MakerSpace as they would use a library. For example, two students in an art class told their teacher they wanted to build their own guitar, so STEAM teachers collaborated with the students to use the tools and guided them through completing their project.

In a statistics class, students were given an assignment to create a board game and students were able to use the laser engraver in the MakerSpace to cut their board game into a piece of wood. They used the 3-D printers to create their game board tokens. The STEAM faculty served as a resource for these students and collaborated with the statistics teacher to pull the project off.

History classes have also taken advantage of these tools to complete creative projects, like a 12-side die that had a timeline for major events in World War II laser engraved onto each side and laser engraved “gender cards” that contained facts about different groups of individuals during important time periods.

Collaboration does take time, of course. We’re in our third year of using the MakerSpace, and we have quite a few teachers across subjects integrating STEAM into their curriculums. But when teachers aren’t familiar with the technology, professional development opportunities are required to incorporate the space into unit plans.

To ensure that the MakerSpace is an effective resource for all of the Upper School students and teachers, the faculty in the STEAM department each “adopted” a machine to become familiar with so that all machinery has a point person and can be a resource for everyone at Shipley.

3. Include Student Feedback

Access to innovative technology and the integration of the STEAM curriculum across the School has played a great role in making our program best in class, but a hallmark of the STEAM program at Shipley is that the course offerings consider student needs and wants. The engineering course I teach was created because students expressed interest in a future in engineering, and Shipley met this interest with a new class offering.

Science Olympiad came about in the same way. A few students brought this club to the attention of the administration. Luckily one of our STEAM teachers was experienced with Science Olympiad and has done a great job of facilitating the club. Now it’s one of the more popular clubs in the Upper School. Oftentimes teachers and the administration will start classes, initiatives and clubs and they’ll be very popular with the students, but letting the students themselves tell you what they want to learn or do cultivates academic curiosity and an even greater love of learning.

Allowing students to take the reins with their STEAM education has also been a lesson in failure. Using the tools in the MakerSpace isn’t always easy and projects can sometimes derail over a simple mistake. Our faculty has taught students how to take a mistake in stride and learn from it. Instead of scrapping an entire project or fixing mistakes for them, we ask “how are you going to fix this?” That lesson alone could impact a student’s future even more than the project itself.

There isn’t a step-by-step guide to creating a great STEAM program in a school, but The Shipley School has created a successful model. Through our STEAM program, we have given our students a holistic approach to education by including arts in a curriculum focused traditionally on the sciences. Our students have access to a hands-on education through our MakerSpace. We’ve even integrated our STEAM curriculum into subjects across our School. However, the greatest attribute of our program is how we have let our students make it their own and given their academic interests and passions top priority throughout the entire process.

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