Karen Cherry, 4th grade teacher, shares what gets her excited about applying STEAM to her classroom curriculum and why it's important. "STEAM activities expose students to the creative process of problem-solving in an encouraging environment where the stress of a 'right answer' (which is often required in a traditional style of learning) is removed. Students' critical thinking increases since they have to think systematically through a task. They learn to look through all stages before beginning to work logically towards completion. As their problem solving skills expand, students are then able to look at current conditions/problems that mankind and the environment are experiencing and freely let their ideas flow in an inhibited manner to offer solutions.
As a teacher, I become motivated while watching my students engaged in STEAM activities. I hear the quality of their communication skills increase. Through their dialogue, they are learning how to respectfully share and discuss creative and specific ideas to each other and they learn to compromise as they listen and accept new ideas beyond their own. I see students gain strength in collaboration as they fairly divide up tasks and responsibilities, and appreciate as well as use the strengths of their peers. Communication and collaboration are vital personal skills that students will need the rest of their lives and to watch them start from a "me" mindset to a "we" mindset gives me great hope in our future leaders. I watch as students' confidence in themselves soars after successfully completing the task.
Our 4th grade Science curriculum lends itself into many STEAM activities. Typically I plan a STEAM activity at the end of each unit. Students first need some concrete knowledge and understanding before application. Once the required lessons are complete, a task will be presented. The task will require students to apply their new learnings via creativity, strategic thinking, trial and error, and collaboration in order to solve a problem or reinvent. For example, at the end of the electricity unit, students are tasked with planning, designing, and then engineering an object that lights up without any wires. I call this the 'Junk Drawer Circuit' task since they have to search their drawers for lightweight items that act as conductors of electricity. The only thing I supply them with is a light pulled from a Christmas tree light string.
While the task at first seems easy enough, the students find themselves going through many trials and errors before their circuits will work. Students go through several stages of emotion from excited, perplexed, frustrated, and then back to excited when they figure out the solution to their problem. This is one of my favorite activities because it enables the students to really dig deeper into their self-perseverance. I see the light bulbs go off, no pun intended, on their faces when they figure out the solution to their problem and then beam or should I say jump up and down with excitement for figuring everything out on their own.”