STEAM projects are very topical these days (I am a fan), but some teachers are still considering their teaching “silos”, and by their nature, STEAM/STEM activities cross silo boundaries. A great way to encourage collaboration and creativity is to cross this boundaries and teach collaboratively! At my school I developed a unit and with colleagues we were able to teach all our areas through the same activity.
An example of PBL/ STEAM activity:
In iCity, the children discuss the elements of a city (roads, buildings of various types, etc.). They each choose an element that they will make (a crafts activity), and then we build a city. In building the icity we discuss whether the relationship between the various elements makes sense, and the children can move the elements around until they arrive at a configuration that works. While doing this, we discuss the notion of process (Step by Step is one of our Interdisciplinary* units). More broadly, this activity also helps us to practice "design thinking", where we use what we know about the world to come up with solutions, and in the process we identify things we don't know yet (and need to learn about!)
As I read about Design Thinking, I realize that the process of coming up with this activity did follow the Design Thinking process:
- Discovery: I have a challenge
- Interpretation: What does this challenge tell me?
- Ideation: What can I create that might address this challenge?
- Experimentation: Try it and see!
- Evolution: It doesn't always work perfectly right away - iterate and improve, based on feedback from the children and parents, and our own observations.
The first thing we did was to decide where the streets would go, and how big the iCity blocks would be, then each child chose a "building". Once they had their buildings, each child traced its base on their own Styrofoam block, and thought about what they would put on the surrounding part of the block (grass, gravel, etc.). Then we glued our buildings in their designated spaces and painted them white. Next, we started a discussion on what our buildings were going to be - shops, apartments, offices, hotels, hospitals, etc., and why, and what kind of things each of these buildings would have and need, e.g., parking. (We will relate this to the neighborhood walk and eventually connect it to our last Interdisciplinary* unit: Where Are We.)
Each child has its own styrofoam block , they are all numbered because they must be put together in a certain way. Every class starts with a discussion, with the challenge, we brainstorm, then the child works on their block alone as they are doing the basics. later they need to work with the friend that has a block next to theirs and sort out their common spaces. This model making is about collaboration, brainstorming, overcoming challenges and finding solutions and above all observing the world around us. one of the pre assignments I gave the students was to do a neighborhood walk so when they start looking at the details they can look at the pictures they took and see if their city has what needs.
The activity combines learning about the world, nature & weather (science); designing and building something (technology and engineering); crafts (arts); and an understanding of spatial relationships, and of shapes (math). The activity is STEAM – all in one! As of that we have "applied" STEAM, when the students acquired the knowledge during their Science/Arts lesson in the project and "on-site" STEAM when the specialist teacher taught with me in the classroom (Math/Technology). All the teachers involved dropped the ownership of their own subject to be able to collaborate freely and with an open mind, we achieved all our benchmarks.
*as a team we decided to look at our units as Transdisciplinary units and not as Interdisciplinary units.