All aboard and Full STEAM Ahead!
The educators over at Bates Middle School in Sumter, South Carolina have been working hard laying tracks for the past year in order to bring their exciting project to fruition. By combining Project Based Learning (PBL) and a curriculum focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) and working with local businesses they are hoping to create a new generation of students who are prepared to be in an agile and competitive work force. One of the brilliant concepts behind this project is that nothing exists in a vacuum. You can’t well understand engineering if you don’t have a good handle on physics. You can’t code a videogame without understanding the underlying code. And you certainly can’t have music without math.
The Full STEAM Ahead project aims to remove the traditional isolation of subjects through the use of the “Critical C’s” of Collaboration, Cooperation and Communication which are emphasized with project based learning through interdisciplinary activities.
Now that they are a year in, let’s see what has transpired.
Bates teachers, led by the Transforming Learning Together (TLT)
mentor teachers, in the first stage of this initiative begun by identifying large-scale student learning goals for the year. They then researched new teaching approaches in order to integrate STEAM and Project Based Learning to help them achieve their goals, along with developing “action plans” for each year’s practice. The belief was that art can spark creativity in young scientists and engineers, develop observational abilities, and strengthen collaborative skills. One of the guiding questions for this project is ” How can we improve instruction, pedagogy, and student learning across the curriculum through the use of STEAM and PBL?”
So how do they propose to do this?
They began by having their trainers and the TLT team attend a PBL and STEAM workshop that spaned six sessions. This team returned to Bates to lead the entire staff through a STEAM Project Based Learning activity in order to familiarize everyone with the methods. Teachers investigated and utilized critical inquiry to work through this challenge. The thinking was that teachers will experience everything that the students do, giving them the tools to help elevate the projects as well as answer previously unanticipated questions. Teachers then guided students through one PBL unit in the first year of implementation.
A year in… where are they now?
They started off by providing professional development to their teachers during the first semester of the school year. STEAM lessons were developed to be a part of the regular curricula as well as embedded in Project Based Learning. The second semester brought about school-wide PBL units. Then on March 24th, there was a school-wide PBL Kickoff to begin the grade level units. This is where things really began to take off. For this initial thrust into the unknown they gave each year a different subject field to dig into. Sixth graders explored the guiding question: “Are animals placed in captivity at an advantage or disadvantage than those in their natural habit? Why/ Why not?”
The kick-off was a field trip to the Riverbanks Zoo. The 6th graders researched the question and created suitable habitats for animals of their choice. The 7th graders explored the guiding question: “How can we be prepared for the unexpected?” Dealing with the preparedness for natural or man-made disasters was the focal point. The Red Cross, Fire Department, EMS, Disaster Management, Police Department, Shaw AFB and Salvation Army each set up a station to explain their role in disasters and how the community can prepare for disasters in the future. Students researched a disaster and prepared community service presentations on disaster preparedness. Eighth graders explored the, very relevant, guiding question: “Can separate be equal?” This question dealt with the Civil Rights movements of 1960 -1990. Guest speakers, Nathaniel Briggs (Briggs vs. Elliot) and Artrell Benbow (civil rights activist in Summerton and Sumter) spoke to the students of their personal experiences. This culminated with the 8th grade Drama class presenting a skit about the infamous Orangeburg Massacre. Students then rotated rooms to watch films about civil rights, explored civil rights virtual museums, and participated in gallery walks. Students researched the civil rights eras of 1960’s through the 1990’s and created projects to address the guiding question. The PBL classes occurred every Tuesday and Thursday beginning March 28th and ended in a PBL Excellence Fair held on May 4th at 6:00 pm at BMS to showcase student work and presentations.
What are some challenges facing STEAM/PBL learning?
For as exciting as this method of PBL learning is, and it’s clear that it’s starting to work; students and teachers on the whole are more engaged in their study areas… it’s not without it’s challenges. One of the biggest cited in the report is that not all of the teachers have bought into the STEAM /PBL concept. This makes communicating those ideas to students that much harder. Further professional development is needed in order to ensure more participation by teachers. They have also had some difficulty setting up model classrooms so we are hoping teachers observing other teachers will assist in this. But as more teachers undergo professional development and find the merit in this method of teaching the easier it will get. And year two has some exciting things in store for the students. One word: Robots. We look forward to hearing about their experiences with Robots.
How might Robots, cross-cultural references and civil rights intersect?
Let’s mix up that engineering and art a bit, shall we? The term “robot” came from a Czech play called Rossums Universal Robots and is derived from the word “robotnik” which means slave. It’s about a robot who is forced to work for a shady company that then rebels and leads to the extinction of the human race. It’s bleak, but not without hope. But it’s a good lesson and a challenge for students on how we should be thinking about a newly created servant class. Just some food for thought.
- STEAM, not STEM
- STEAM Rising: Why we need to put the arts into STEM education
- Project-Based Learning: PBL is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge
- Project-Based Learning: Students actively investigate solutions to complex, long-term challenges, often in groups
Fourth graders stimulate the thinking processes involved in creativity through an Academic Enrichment Grant
As we face many challenges in educating our children, it is important to emphasize creative thinking and problem solving. Creative thinking and problem-solving are essential parts of the process to turn ideas into innovation and open up avenues to creativity.
What were the goals of the Cigar Box Odyssey project?
The overall goal of the Cigar Box Odyssey project was to teach creativity by integrating the Outcomes of their gifted program with the Objectives of their Fourth Grade Curriculum. Their goal was achieved by emphasizing the gifted process skills of performance, presentation, research, creativity, self-directed learning, group dynamics, and understanding and creating art. The students analyzed the creative process used by musicians to design the cigar box guitar using the SCAMPER (Substitute; Combine; Adapt; Modify; Put to another use; Eliminate; Reverse) technique.
What is the SCAMPER technique?
The SCAMPER technique (introduced Bob Eberle, as described in the design thinking blog, Designorate, by Rafiq Elmansy) is based on the idea that what is new is actually an adaptation of something that already existed. It is considered one of the easiest and most direct methods to creative thinking. The SCAMPER keywords noted above represent the necessary questions students should address during the creative thinking process. For example, for Substitute one could ask, “What part of the process can be substituted without affecting the whole project?” or for Combine, one could ask, “Can we merge two steps of the process?”
What skills did students use to build their Cigar Box Guitars?
The students researched the origin of the Delta Blues and how the Blues form travelled and changed, influencing other American music forms. They used measuring skills, basic knowledge of sound, and creative principles to build their own cigar box guitars. Then the students wrote original songs and performed them in a Blues Café that was set up in their classroom.
The students attended the New Orleans Cigar Box Guitar Music Festival where they were well received and able to meet professional performers. And, to top it off they have been invited to perform at the Festival next year. To prepare for their performance, they plan to invite T. J. Wheeler, creator of the Blues in Schools program, to College Park and help the students prepare for this performance. He taught this year’s fourth graders a few things in just a short time at the festival.
How has this program affected learning?
Because of this program the students have experienced the intersection of research and reality. They have had a taste of living what they researched and were exposed to adults who built the same instruments and performed the same kind of music. They were also able to extend the program to include some cutting-edge technology by 3D printing their own guitar picks.
So, what’s next for the students?
With the purchase of a 3D printer students will learn how to program CAD and create (not just print) their own picks. So, both the technology and the performance components of the program will be lifted to a higher plane when they learn to program CAD and perform formally in front of a festival audience.