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Cultivating STEAM in Elementary School Through Joyful Hands-On Learning

Cultivating STEAM in Elementary School Through Joyful Hands-On Learning
Tanya Olander

Creating dynamic STEAM learning opportunities with real-world challenges naturally nurtures elementary school students’ interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math in joyful ways.

Listen to any young child play and you will notice that they are full of curiosity and wonder - two characteristics that, when allowed to flourish and bloom, unlock the door to joyful learning and innovation.

Mr. Hua supports Grade 5 students during a hands-on learning experience and guest speaker visit about water.

Supporting students’ natural curiosity and helping their inner STEAM innovators to flourish, specialized educators like Phú Hua, Danai Maramba, Ms. Helen, and Ms. Thu collaborate with teachers to provide rich and varied STEAM opportunities in our elementary school.

Where Independence Meets Innovation

The MakerSpace is a place where elementary school students can learn, explore, and share. Here they can find everything from cardboard and glue guns to scissors, clamps, and 3D printers. The only things they need to bring to this rich and stimulating environment are their curiosity and their imagination.

Ms. Helen helps a student find materials for her next project in the MakerSpace while two students work in Tinkercad behind them.

While some students love to plan and diagram their way to a creation, others just want to explore freely and see what evolves. And during recess, they’re free to do either way in the MakerSpace. “Recess is a great opportunity for unstructured tinkering,” says Phú Hua, our Elementary School Instructional STEAM Coach, “that’s why we ensure that the MakerSpace is available to students outside of planned classroom activities. It gets them thinking about and enjoying STEAM-related activities independently.”

As students work, Ms. Helen, the MakerSpace teaching assistant, is never far away. Not only does she ensure that students have a safe place to discover how to use tools, but as an experienced tinkerer and maker herself, she is also someone the students can bounce ideas off as they problem-solve to create their visions. 

The opportunities don’t stop there, though. The MakersSpace is also used by teachers to reinforce their SuperUnits, like when students were learning how small inaccuracies can have a massive impact on a structure or when they studied erosion

Incorporating Technology Thoughtfully

Our Instructional Coach for Elementary School Technology, Danai Maramba, plays another instrumental role in supporting STEAM by ensuring that technology is incorporated thoughtfully and deliberately in our elementary school classrooms.

For a unit in Grade 2, for example, he taught students Tinkercad, a software for online 3D modeling, which they used to design bubble wands. The students printed their wand designs in the MakerSpace’s 3D printers and blew bubbles to test their creations. 

Grade 2 students experimenting with the 3D-printed bubble wands they designed. They work!

With the help of Mr. “D,” as students call Mr. Maramba and Mr. Phú, our students have many intentional STEAM-related activities across the elementary school SuperUnits. While learning how to monitor temperatures and harness solar energy, for example, Grade 4 students built solar ovens out of cardboard and tin foil. Their reward for mastering the assignment was heating the ingredients to make yummy marshmallow and chocolate treats called “S’mores.” To further solidify their knowledge, the students shared their designs with their Grade 1 buddies and explained the science behind them.

Outdoors, science is also brought to life in other ways to nurture students' curiosity about the natural world. As part of their “Under the Weather” unit, Grade 1 students measured temperature, rainfall, and wind, recording the data and analyzing patterns over time (see cover image, at top). 

Sparking an Interest in Coding

Through a wide range of creative and engaging activities, our students' natural curiosity about coding is also being nurtured from an early age. During Computer Science Week, students participated in Hour of Code, a worldwide non-profit event that promotes computer science and nurtures students' interest in this field through fun, hands-on experiences among other activities.

Using physical blocks, a student learns the principles of coding through an interactive hands-on adventure game during Computer Science Week.

Our students' journey in STEAM is not just about learning in the classroom; it's about experiencing the joy of creation, the thrill of discovery, and the satisfaction of problem-solving. 

Mr. "D" explains the VEX IQ challenge to a student in the elementary school SparkLab, situated just across from the MakerSpace.

From tinkering in the MakerSpace to designing 3D-printed bubble wands, from building solar ovens to exploring the wonders of the natural world, our students are on a path to becoming the innovators and problem solvers of tomorrow.


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