Lower School STEAMs Ahead
Lower School STEAMs Ahead

Tucker Rae-Grant, STEAM Program Director

If a lower school child were to ask me what we do in the STEAM Lab, I would tell them that we take something they learned in one class in order to answer a question in another, identify a problem that we want to solve, try out a lot of things to see what works, and practice appreciating the different skills and interests that everyone brings to a project.

We often talk about teaching children to be producers, rather than consumers, of technology, and we could be saying the same thing about education as a whole. Reflecting on my own K-12 experience, I feel like I was often taught to receive information. I became very good at taking in a given subject in order to repeat it back on an assessment, and I often forgot that information once it was no longer relevant to my grade. It is fairly well established that kids retain learning when they are a part of creating it, especially if they have done so in multiple learning modalities. While the STEAM Program does involve Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, it is not an umbrella department for those fields. The STEAM Program is an attempt to help students learn the problem-finding and problem-solving strategies that people use to create new knowledge and new solutions. Practitioners of all of these disciplines start off by finding a question that has not already been answered. After devising what they think will be the best approach to finding an answer, scientists, artists, etc., pay careful attention to new questions that arise along the way.

I am very lucky that I get to collaborate with lower school teachers in a number of ways: sometimes I work with a curriculum over a period of months, as I have done with the first grade, other times I sit down with a teacher to act as a sounding board for their ideas, asking questions and perhaps offering some suggestions.

On one of my first days at FSS, first grade teacher Anne Thomforde Thomas approached me to talk about bridges. First-graders were going to learn about bridges, physical and metaphorical, for most of the fall. We sat down to share resources, talk through what was exciting to us about bridges, and brainstorm some ideas for activities. As the students came into the STEAM Lab to pretend to be bridges and do structural experiments, it became clear that they were really excited to build things, so we formed a large project around constructing bridges in teams. The students got very invested in their cardboard creations, arriving each day with a plan about what needed to happen next. In the end, they were able to explain in great detail what every part of their bridge was, from the overall form, down to the smallest bit of pipe cleaner. The process involved constant discussion between partners about how their project should develop, frequent structural adjustments to support the added weight of new sections, and a lot of empathy with the imagined users of their bridges.

I have been visiting Teacher Kellie Bowker and Teacher Lindsey Fiorella's class almost weekly to informally build large structures with the pre-kindergarteners. I brought in cardboard that I had cut into different shapes and sizes, and the students have turns figuring out what sort of piece they need and how to attach it. Most of the fun comes from actually putting the cardboard together, but sometimes it can be quite difficult to punch a hole through the thick material. The important thing is not that they learn when to ask for help, but that they keep trying to push their abilities further before asking.

It is an absolute pleasure to work with people who love what they do. As the program continues to develop, I hope to bring in more people working in STEAM fields who can share their love of discovery with kids at FSS. I invite you to hear more about lower school's STEAM program and the projects our students are currently working on. Watch here.

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