Monday, June 30, 2014

Building STEAM!

 On July 18, I was lucky to attend a STEAM/Big Picture Learning conference.  Many friendly faces were present, including seven colleagues from Flynn in Burlington, and David Bouchard, Enrichment teacher at Jericho.
So why has it taken me so long to write about it?  Because I had to wait for the egg to come in the mail, and for my son, the addressee, to open it.  More on that later.  Look at this wall.

What do eggs have to do with stone walls?
People are builders.  Children are builders. They stack rocks because it's beautiful, a great way to explore gravity, and because it's fun.  And then they can build a wall.  And maybe someday a house.  Andy Goldsworthy has made stacking natural objects a career all his own.

Not all children love math and science, but the arts can bring them to it, and vice-versa.  So STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) education is a chance to use their imaginations and creativity in areas that were previously meant for more "serious intellectuals" to study. As a girl I was afraid of performing poorly in science, so I avoided it, which is why I have changed my tune 180 degrees to bring this subject matter to other young learners in forms such as conductive play-doh, magic wands, and motorized, light-up toys.

What a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and learn more.  Our big task was to work with very basic materials to successfully construct a package that could ship an egg or slice of bread to ourselves. My partner was Nina Madore, Flynn School Speech and Language Pathologist.

At work with our supplies- photo credit to Rebekah Thomas
We were given a large flat cardboard sheet, a sour cream container, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, a popsicle stick, tiny kids' scissors, a bit of brown paper, a sheet of plastic, a pencil, and a ruler.

Note that tape and glue were not included.

 Nina and I prioritized the fact that this package would be mailed, and therefore had to be relatively compliant with USPS regulations, so we decided to build a box.

 After much measuring, scoring, and drawing, we made a million tiny snips with our mini scissors and created out little origami masterpiece.

Here it is, unfolded and open.
We packed the egg into the sour cream container with padding, and put it into the box, which we carefully sealed with the arrow-shaped, fishhook-like tabs we cut.

Then Nina, because she is incredibly kind, suggested we address it to my son.  Who would not be home for a week.  Oh, how that egg would smell in a week if it broke in the package.

Teams introduced their ideas, and defended their designs

This team wanted a package that was largely compostable, and so they avoided plastics.

Teams had so many cool and different solutions. 
So, it got mailed, arrived a few days later, and waited for my boy to come open it.  Arriving was an accomplishment itself, and to me the biggest one.  It passed USPS guidelines, and didn't come apart in the mail.
Here it is!
Pulling out the inner container- if I could do this again I would have skipped it for the additional challenge.

Opening the egg bunker

Voila! Intact egg. Whew!
Imagine if this was what you did all day at school? Not varied or deep enough for you? Consider this project for a child: the math skills, the communication and team-building, the compromise, planning and engineering, fine motor skill exercise, learning to label a package with an address, researching acceptable USPS guidelines, the list goes on.  

Now, it is great that it arrived unbroken, but it might have been even more interesting if it had failed, because that's where the real learning happens- what variable could I have changed?  Hands-on learning yields such creative problem-solving.

Arguably my biggest take-away was this:  the more restrictive and complex the directions, the more limited in scope and creativity the solutions can be, and conversely, the simpler the question and objective, the broader and more creative the answers and results.

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