S.T.E.A.M is an educational term that refers to a means of teaching students how all things relate to one another, in school and in the real world. The acronym S.T.E.A.M stands for: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. STEAM becomes a more engaging approach to learning for students because the learning is based on exploring and investigating. “S.T.E.A.M for a Cause” has proven to be a worthwhile challenge for our students.
“Steam for a Cause” offers students a chance to engage in lessons that not only incorporate science, technology, art, and math, but also seek ways to help make the world a better place. Learning to help others is a valuable skill for building strong friendships. When children begin to see how everyone’s actions connect and effect the world, change is possible. Books are always a good starting point and a few of my favorites are Stand in My Shoes, Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson , Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. and Dolphin Tale the Jr. Novel by Gabrielle Reyes.
Students’ learning can be pushed to a new level of complexity without the same level of stress that would be associated with a traditional classroom environment. Students begin to ask the natural questions of who, what, where and why without prompting. With the correct activities, students will begin to volunteer their free time to work on projects that connect to the real world. With careful consideration these same activities can open their eyes to how they can positively impact the world.
My first encounter with this type of teaching was brought to my attention while on a family vacation in Marco Island, Florida on the Dolphin Explorer Boat in 2011. As my family and I were enjoying the scenic ride aboard the Explorer, the naturalist shared valuable information about the dolphins, manatees, birds of prey and mangrove forests. It came to my attention the team of experts would be using Skype to connect with students around the nation. An experience that has changed my perspective of what teaching should truly embrace. To gain a complete understanding of the program and how it turned out to be an experience of a lifetime, visit the following links:
What I learned very quickly was that when learning connects to the real-world students will become active participants in their learning. A goal I strive to achieve on a regular basis since my students showed me the way to “help to save a dolphin” all the way from Pittsburgh, PA.
A few of my students’ favorite S.T.E.A.M activities include:
- City of Bridges– Students read books such as Seymour Simon’s, Bridges. Simon’s book incorporates interesting facts about the more than half-million bridges in North America and how they impact our travel. After learning about how bridges connect us to the world students then have a chance to build a bridge made from toothpicks, gumdrops or K’Nex. (There are many more options but these are some of the materials my students worked with and found successful). The topic of bridges lends itself to bodies of water and how the environment is effected by litter and pollution.
- Impact of Oil Spills– Students take part in a mock oil spill experiment and the challenges in saving the environment and wildlife. A meaningful conversation about how pollution can effect our health and safety concludes the experiment. A great link that offers free lessons to carry out this experiment can be found at Alaska Oil Spill Curriculum. Prince William Sound by Gloria Rand and Oil Spill by Melvin Berger perfectly and would act as a wonderful introduction.
- Pillowcase Dresses– Students can learn about measurement and sewing and contribute to a worthy cause. Visit the following link to learn more: Little Dresses for Africa
- Shoebox Recycling- Students initiate a shoe recycling project and learn about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling in the process. Also, all money earned can be donated to a favorite charity. Visit Shoe Box recycling to learn more. Favorite books that connect with this lesson: A Bag in the Wind by Ted Kooser and George Saves the Day by Lunchtime by Jo Readman.
These are just a few of our favorites. The art portion of the projects usually lend themselves to the creation of environmental posters to hang throughout the school or using recycled materials to create artwork.
There are so many valuable lessons to investigate that will help to foster a love of learning, much more than any worksheet or website can offer. I am certain there will not be another opportunity to share with the nation what my students and I are doing in class, but I will definitely continue searching for lessons that will prompt students to look more closely at the world. By presenting opportunities for students to take a closer look at real-world problems we are preparing our students for their future.