by Camille Harrison
The essence of STEAM-based learning is integration. While I knew there were certain skills I wanted to teach students the content to teach those skills was wide open. I can still clearly remember the overwhelming feeling I had my first year teaching STEAM — so many options, what to cover. That first year I had students working on iPads way more then I would have liked. They became my crutch. So much so that the next year I challenged myself to limit iPad usage with students to 25% of my teaching time with them. But what to teach when I didn’t have any specific content?
When collaborating with colleagues my first instinct is to listen. Whenever I was able to attend a grade level meeting I just wanted to hear what they were doing. In doing all that listening I was able to find opportunities to assist with an activity that was either something they had always done and struggled with. For example, second grade students in social studies have a unit that looks at the the areas of our city and how our neighborhood has changed over the years. They learn about residential, commercial, industrial, recreational and services available in our city. In math they are doing some measurement and establishing a number line. What was the “Measuring for the Art Show” unit became Measuring for our Cardboard City. Measuring poster board of different sizes that would be the “land plot” students would build on. This project has grown into the main project of the year for students. But it all started with my helping make the connection between the math unit and the building project they had students do.
Each student builds a building or space for the city. In the culminating activity they arrange their buildings/places to make up the Second Grade Cardboard City. This project connects to a social studies unit, a math unit, art skills and of course, STEAM.
Not only should you listen for things people are struggling with, but also keep an ear out for an idea they have but didn’t know where to start. Our school librarian does this big unit with first grade students that starts as an exploration between fact and opinion. The culminating project in the past was students reading a picture book biography about a famous person or animal. They find three facts and one opinion about the person or animal they read about and did a guessing activity. She wanted students to do something more but couldn’t figure out what. I stumbled upon the idea of turning a water bottle into what we call Biography Bottles. This idea continued with recycling theme (something first grade focuses on throughout the year). After reading their picture book biography students used a reference photo and a wealth of other materials to turn their bottle into a representation of their person or animal.
Biography Bottles created by first grade students as part of a Library and STEAM project.
Besides listening there are three more tips I suggest in getting classroom teachers, and other school colleagues to join in on the STEAMy fun:
- Attend any grade level and/or planning meetings you can. Focus on just listening to find those projects or ideas that you can help expand. After you start working on a project remember that collaborative work requires so much communication. Even if you are doing a project that you’ve done before, you never know what ways you might be able to innovate without hearing what else is going on.
- Invite people to come see what you are doing. As a specialists teacher I’m often teaching solo. It can feel a little like being a salesperson, but if you want people to be involved or excited about what you are doing they need to see what is happening.
- Give colleagues a chance to play with materials too. At least once a year I host a faculty meeting where I challenge colleagues to one of the design challenges I give to students or a new one that I’m trying to test out. Just as students love having time in the day to create with their hands in an open-ended, problem-solving way, teachers too appreciate that time.
Good luck! And remember, communication and listening will be your best tools in getting colleagues to collaborate.