Steaming for a Cause!

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:

A Walk on the Beach

Saving Seymour the Dolphin

Seymour the TV Star

It’s Elementary My Dear Seymour- Sea Rescue

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:

  1.  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.
  2. 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.Prince William
  3. 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 Africalogo
  4. 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.

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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.

 

Media Literacy – More than just using Ed Tech

I spent an amazing day earlier this week at “Yes, And… A NAMLE Preconference Symposium on Media Literacy Education in Early Childhood.” If you’re not familiar with NAMLE – National Association for Media Literacy in Education – (I wasn’t), you can check out their website. I received a free invite to the symposium and conference and, because I never turn down free learning, I was pretty excited to go. In my mind, this session was going to be about getting preschoolers on iPads and other fun tech. What I didn’t realize was there is WAY more to media literacy than knowing how to connect to the WiFi. I had a few Oprah-worthy “a-ha moments” as I sat in the room where 10% of the  attendees were subject matter experts and book authors.

The session started with NAMLE’s founding president and symposium faciliator Dr. Faith Rogow. Behind her on the projection screen was a horse running a beach. She gestured to the screen and asked us, “What do you see?” Answers seemed obvious: a horse, a beach, waves, the ocean. Then she smiled and said, “It’s a PICTURE of a horse.” As the chuckles subsided, I hadn’t yet realized how well that statement set the stage for unveiling a whole new way to consume media.

NAMLE makes it very clear from their core principles that media literacy is a mindset, a way of thinking, and a way of interpreting all media around us:

The purpose of media literacy education is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world.

Habits of inquiry and skills of expression. This is way more than being tech savvy. Critical thinkers, effective communicators, and active citizens. This is 21st century skills meeting a healthy dose of creativity with a sprinkle of well-needed cynicism.

Look at that graphic I posted above and all of the higher level thinking skills going on there! We’re talking about those top rungs on Bloom’s Taxonomy! Cyndy Scheibe of Ithaca College’s Project Look Sharp shared three very important rules for constructivist media decoding (a way to encourage students to examine diverse media):

  1. Always start with your goals
  2. Consider your audience
  3. Ask, don’t tell – then probe for evidence

It seems pretty simple – but these three rules can apply to so much more than evaluating media. We spent a large portion of the day on the importance of questioning. Instead of accepting what children say to you, ask : How do you know this? Where did you learn that? Why do you think this happens? Where can we look to learn more? The focus was not just on getting children to soak up knowledge like  sponges, but to think carefully about the process of researching and learning, and carefully drawing conclusions based on multiple sources of evidence. Oh yeah, and we were STILL talking about working only with preschoolers. Think about it – the preschool years are so full of wonder and inquiry about everything from categorizing dinosaurs, to learning the letters in my name, and wondering how boogers got in my nose before I pulled them out with my finger. (That last one truly came from a former student of mine.) It only seems logical that we can extend this inquiry and “let’s find it out” mindset to media.

We talked in the symposium about how in every television show, commercial, or YouTube ad there are actors wearing costumes – even if it’s an average looking person dressed in everyday clothes. There was equal talk of getting children to show what they know in multiple ways – through pictures, images, voice recordings, tweeting and even blogging. Yes, we talked about preschoolers blogging – and it’s being done with great results! We talked about getting children to be careful consumers of media from how they look at a cereal commercial on TV to what advertisements are on a website. Gail Lovely of Suddenly it Clicks shared experiences of using iPads to create dual language picture and audio books to help children preserve their Cherokee culture and language. We ended the day sharing tips and tricks for “tweaking” our professional practice to help encourage media literacy and be more mindful of how we present and create media within the classroom (these were videoed and will be featured on NAMLE’s YouTube channel). The backchat on Twitter was full of great quotes from the day along with link after link for more resources. We had become intent on sharing what we know and working together. A list of media literacy outcomes (pic below) was shared and we were challenged as a group to analyze this list and wonder what else we should share. Totally different than just a day of presentation, this was a true collaborative experience.

Over 8 hours, I was immersed in a roiling sea of great minds colliding with novices, swirling through resources, links, and examples, and surmounting in waves of discovery. Together, this group was able to excite and engage my mind and get me excited to share what I saw and heard. Upon reflection, it was a type of engagement that I have only experienced on several other occasions. I thought I was going to get the general, “Use tech as a tool, not a treat” lecture… instead, I learned how to probe with questions, use media to support learning, and make children critical thinkers. It was mind-blowing. I’ll wrap up here with a quote from Dr. Vivian Vasquez of American University:

We want them [children] to be able to think more deeply about media, culture, and the world all the time – not just when we demand it of them.


 

Here are some links that can help you if you’re interested in media literacy at ANY age level and links for using technology appropriately with young children: