Western Wayne Students Learning Through STEAM

Designing balloons worthy for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and constructing a house that could withstand the big bad wolf’s huffing and puffing are just  two applications of STEAM that Western Wayne teachers tested out in their classrooms this year.

          Elizabeth Watson, Western Wayne principal of STEAM, explained how STEAM is working at the district this year.  Watson was recently selected STEAM Ambassador for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

          “I have been working in the classrooms with teachers and designing lessons to help them come up with other ideas on their own,” Watson said.  “It all boils down to project-based learning.”

          Western Wayne fifth grade teacher Joanne Connolly did a STEAM project with her students at Evergreen Elementary that was a week-long problem-solving activity called “Balloons Over Broadway.”

          Connolly described the event.  “Due to a helium shortage, the students were then tasked with engineering a new way to keep the balloons afloat without helium,” she said.  “We incorporated science by learning about the properties of helium and its importance in many applications other than balloons.  Students learned that helium is used in the cooling process for the magnets in an MRI machine, for example.”

          Connolly gave more information about the week-long event.  “Students then worked in small groups to engineer a design to keep their balloon afloat,” she said.  “Next, a parade was held, and students then voted for the most creative balloon and the most functional design.”

          Connolly and her students were both very excited about the results of their STEAM project.

          “As a teacher it is exciting to watch the students problem-solve and work collaboratively for a common goal,” she explained.  “The incorporation of STEAM into our classrooms has sparked a new excitement for learning, tremendous conversations, and more students getting to share their unique talents.”

          Watson agrees that the STEAM lessons this year are really engaging the students.

          “Kids are loving the things we are doing,” Watson explained.  “It is good motivation for them to work hard in class.”

          Another Western Wayne elementary school teacher Sarah Wood, from Robert D. Wilson Elementary, has also been incorporating STEAM in her classroom.

          Wood explained how the students did a The Three Little Pigs unit and used STEAM.  “We start each unit reading the book, then identifying a problem or science element,” she explained.  “After The Three Little Pigs, we talked about wind and what made the different materials in the book hardier to the wolf’s attempts at knocking them down.”

          Wood further explained the students’ STEAM work.  “The students then experimented with hay, sticks, and bricks  to see which were more easily blown away by their breath.  Their final project was to build a house that could stay standing when blown with a hair dryer.”

          Wood’s students also completed another STEAM project.

          “The second unit was the Gruffalo.  Students programmed robot mice to make their way through a maze and past the characters that wanted to hunt it down,” she explained.  “We started the programming with paper arrows, then gradually introduced punching code into the mice.”

          In addition, Wood described another STEAM project in her class.

          “Another unit was on the Gruffalo’s Child.  In this unit, we looked at shadows,” she explained.  “We experimented with making shadows on the wall and then built a shadow box theater from cereal boxes and wax paper to retell the story to the parents.”

          Wood truly believes that her students benefit from STEAM.

          “I believe that STEAM can give different students a chance to shine,” Wood explained.  “I did a coding lesson with first grade this year as part of the Pennsylvania CS grant initiative, and it was fun to see students who struggle with reading or math discover that part of learning that comes naturally to them.  They became the experts to their friends and were able to be the ones who shared knowledge instead of being the receiver.”

          Watson is thrilled that students in Wood’s classes and so many others in the Western Wayne School District are benefiting from learning through STEAM.  She explained that thinking through STEAM lessons can be helpful to students in today’s day and age.

          “Today’s students understand what ‘debugging’ means,” Watson explained.  “Through STEAM students learn that stumbling blocks are part of the process of learning.  They essentially learn about revision and how sometimes the only way to fix or improve something is by toiling and persevering through it.  Creating inventions in the real world is a process that takes years, and students can learn this concept through STEAM.”

          Watson feels excited that so many Western Wayne students are being exposed to lessons and projects associated with skills needed for possible careers in STEAM areas that they may want to pursue.

          “There are so many jobs that are available in technology fields, engineering fields, etc.,” Watson said.  “The sooner they get a feel for what they like then we can tie it in other places and set them on a career path early on.”

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