From Dream to STEAM: Guided STEAM Learning Through Play

STEAM play

What started as a dream has become a reality! One short year ago, our campus, Lawson Early Childhood School, began its journey from Dream to STEAM. Our campus recognized the growing need to provide uniquely designed STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) experiences for our 3, 4, and 5 year old students and began imagining what would later become a fully equipped STEAM lab. At the heart of our STEAM dream has consistently been the goal of developing our PreK students socially, emotionally, and academically while providing opportunities for them to explore, collaborate, problem solve, and question through play. Our global society necessitates a strong math/science background, and by building a STEAM lab for our young learners, we are providing foundational experiences and scaffolding academic vocabulary while fostering a love of learning through carefully designed, standards-aligned experiences that provoke creativity, problem solving, and collaboration.

Open-ended lessons requiring communication and critical thinking allow students to explore many solutions to a variety of problems. Our students benefit from opportunities to build lifelong math/science skills as they investigate the power of wind on a variety of objects using a wind tunnel, code Bee-Bots and Code-a-pillars, design structures and scenery with giant interlocking blocks to use as a setting to retell a story, build strong bridges with a variety of materials, and learn to persevere through trial and error with ramps and tunnels on a big magnetic wall. Through play and careful design, we are developing confident risk-takers while our PreK students explore STEAM for their first time.

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We design our STEAM lessons with a structured teaching cycle (thinking, planning, doing, reflecting) to ensure success in the STEAM lab. Each set of lessons is planned to meet specific academic guidelines. Higher order questions, visuals, “I can” statements, and reflection questions are built in so students acquire new academic and social vocabulary. STEAM lessons are introduced to teachers through flipped learning videos, giving them an opportunity to explore and ask questions about the lessons in advance.

In the lab, students engage in open-ended, hands-on experiences that cover an overarching theme, such as Energy or Construction, requiring them to think, question, and communicate. Following their experiences in the STEAM lab, teachers facilitate reflection on the learning, honing in on vocabulary and creative problem solving as they debrief the activities with students. As a result, several teachers have been inspired to design STEAM lesson spin-offs in their own classrooms, incorporating higher order thinking and collaboration skills that encourage their students to be innovative risk takers.

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Over the past year, our collective journey from Dream to STEAM has taught us a few important lessons. One being, to replicate a STEAM lab experience, stakeholders need to understand that it is not about the stuff. Meaningful lessons can be accomplished with existing materials. The focus should be on resourceful and creative ways to use supplies already on hand. Secondly, start small and engage teachers in the process; their investment and energy are essential in creating a successful program. Next, every step in the learning process is important. Always keep in mind the process is as equally important, if not more, as the outcome. The conversations and closing reflections are crucial to students’ ability to draw conclusions and communicate learning. Lastly, do not be disappointed if the lesson fails. With STEAM, mistakes are often where the most learning occurs.

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As an early childhood school, Lawson is unique in providing STEAM learning for all of our students. What began as a dream developed into a fully functioning STEAM Lab where joyful creativity, boisterous collaboration, and critical thinking are fostered daily. Who knows where our STEAM journey may lead us next…we invite you to begin your own journey from Dream to STEAM!

Co-Authored by Susie Towber, Nancy Alvarez, Veronica Muizers, Brandy Wirstrom, Kelly McKee, and Heidi Veal

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