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Do you remember the wonder you felt as a child? When a cardboard box held endless possibilities and each star in the sky fired your imagination? We often associate wonder with childhood because it is a feeling of looking at something for the first time. Humans were created for wonder, and our teachers in our Village and Elementary School want students to experience it every day, particularly with their STEAM curriculum.
Says STEAM Director Tom Meeker: “There is no expectation of a ‘right answer’ or grade attached to exploration [at this age]. It is an incredible opportunity for students to observe the natural world and be surprised by its magical, mystical nature. This wonder is the groundwork for science in the middle and high school years, where we push students not only to uncover the reasons and explanations behind these phenomena, but also work to inspire them to recapture the wonder that they saw in those early years.”
Mr. Meeker worked closely with Lower School Principal Ms. Rhonda Helms and Assistant Principal Ms. Jill Baker this past year to refine and align science standards taught in upper elementary. This has included a renewed effort to maximize the use of learning spaces, connecting student experiences and learning across the Nasmyth Environmental Center (NEC), SPARK (a learning lab), and grade-level classrooms. New spaces have been established, and students in both the Village and Elementary School visit STEM laboratories each week where participate in hands-on activities and collaborative learning.
Ms. Lisa Chase is the lead teacher in the NEC, an optimal space for integrated learning. She observes, “Some GAC learning standards are better suited for lessons in the NEC, where they can come alive. In our greenhouse, we can touch on all aspects, from raising food to eating it. We raise the fish, but then they also learn how to gut and clean them. Students learn to think about the future of agriculture through our work with aquaponics. We talk about how chickens are raised and how they get to the store. For some students, this is an epiphany.”
The study of chickens is a perfect example of how STEAM learning happens. In one lesson, the kids gain an understanding about anatomy and engineering, art and writing fluency. “It’s important to interweave all aspects”, says Ms. Chase. “Students learn to recognize body parts but then they take a day to observe the chickens in the hen house and draw what they see. It’s one of my favorite days as I watch them take it all in and uncover knowledge in real life. They also write a story where they are required to name all body parts.” (Another fun activity? Chickstagram: students try and imagine what a chicken would say on Instagram and write and illustrate their posts.)
When Lower School students are not at the NEC or in their classrooms, they might be found at Spark in the Henderson Media Center. There they have countless opportunities to explore and engage in STEAM in new ways, all with the goal of enhancing their technical, engineering, and communication skills. Students learn media creation in the form of films, websites, presentation tools, blogs, animation, and digital storytelling. They are taught how to become responsible digital citizens along with learning to navigate the enormous amounts of information they have access to. They are challenged to think critically and design solutions through the use of different coding programs, 3D printing designs, strategies for research, and various hands-on tools. Emphasis is placed on teamwork, collaboration, and communication throughout the different learning units. Learning is not just a one-way street. Students have opportunities throughout the year to share their ideas with peers and faculty, further enhancing the learning process.
Connected learning across spaces and subject areas solidifies knowledge and results in more academically rich experiences for our Lower School students. The results are well worth the effort. “You’ll see a deep thinker coming home,” says Ms. Helms.