Elementary School Gives All Students Access to STREAM Education
In a fast-paced world that is ever changing, education is no exception. New ways of learning are continually being developed as education expands beyond the traditional classroom setting. To help keep up with these changes, staff at Central Elementary School in Idabel, Oklahoma, launched a new lab focused on STREAM education for the 2019–2020 school year.
The new STREAM lab encompasses science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and math in one designated space where students are encouraged to express themselves and be creative, while still learning valuable skills for education and for life.
Three years ago, school administration decided to implement its first STEM program, but program tools and resources were limited. Teachers were encouraged to incorporate STEM activities into their classrooms when they could, but between the core requirements of classroom curriculum and the limited time and resources available, it was often a struggle.
Need for Growth
The biggest obstacle the original STEM program presented was that not every student ending up having the same access to this type of learning. The structure of the new STREAM lab resolves this issue.
Now, through dedicated lab time each week, all 370 students in this second-through-fifth-grade school have the same access to the same learning opportunities.
“The new STREAM lab has exposed the kids to activities and experiences that they would not have had otherwise,” said Shannon Pond, second grade teacher.
Why STREAM Education?
When several school staff members, led by the principal, an instructional coach, and the librarian, decided to designate a specific space for this type of learning, they decided to incorporate reading and art into the traditional STEM subjects. The school doesn’t have a dedicated art teacher, so including this subject in the STREAM lab offered the chance for students to experience art and creativity in new ways.
“Many times, those students with the most behavioral issues can also be the most talented,” Nancy Copeland, school principal, said. Without including art in the STREAM education program, many students wouldn’t have the opportunity to develop these talents.
It was also important to utilize the lab as an opportunity to grow students’ reading skills. “Reading is a huge life skill,” said Copeland. “The lab actually pushes them to read and comprehend and learn more, without them even realizing they are developing those skills.”
STREAM Education Activities
A favorite current activity of many of Central’s students is the virtual reality programs. “It takes them to places they may never be able to actually go and allows them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” Copeland said.
Some of the other activities and tools currently available in the lab include:
There is always room for growth, and Central hopes to continue to expand the activities and resources available to students.
When some of the students at Central were asked what other activities they’d like to see in the future, Kiara and Harley said they’d like to see a reading tent and bean bag chairs for reading, while Anthony said he would like to be able to make videos, and Derriontae said he wants to control remote cars using coding.
Even the teachers and staff have started a STREAM education wish list. Pond said she would like to see technology tools for video, games, or graphic design, more math activities such as scale models using 3D printing, financial literacy components, and creative writing publishing tools.
Because the projects conducted in the STREAM lab are not graded, tools for measuring the program’s success aren’t as tangible as in a classroom setting. However, the effectiveness of the lab can be measured when students are able to successfully complete projects and develop new skills, such as teamwork, creative and critical thinking, and problem-solving.
More importantly, because the lab offers a fun and relaxed atmosphere, the students are more engaged in learning. “It’s something they want to do, not something they have to do,” explained Copeland. The educators at Central hope that as students grow through their educational benchmarks, there will be positive results and score increases due to the additional instruction and skills students gain through their STREAM education.
Advice for Others
If you’re looking to start or expand your own makerspace or STEM/STREAM program, the staff at Central recommend you start by sitting down with your fellow faculty and staff to brainstorm what it is you want from such a program. It’s easier to map out where to go if you choose a destination first.
Once you have some of your own ideas, try tapping into the vast resources and network available for educators for further inspiration. In short, do your homework.