By Lisa Rubio and Kranti Singh

At times, we may feel as though public education is an entity of rigidity and following of rules, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Taking the risk and implementing a different approach to teaching and learning can positively impact students. For McSpedden Elementary, it started with our STEAM journey.

Whenever starting a new initiative, it’s wise to evaluate why you should proceed. Why must you embark on the journey? For us, our ‘why’ was the need to increase student engagement, provide extension activities, support the goal of fostering Future Ready Learners, and to ensure interdisciplinary connections. Knowing our ‘why’ has been a great motivator in making sure we fulfill our vision.

As we started on our journey of creating a STEAM campus, there were many things we had to consider to ensure our program was successful. For starters, we needed to define what STEAM means and what it would look like for our students. With so many different explanations of what STEM and STEAM are and what’s most important, we needed a working definition that all stakeholders could understand.

We defined STEAM as an inquiry-based educational approach to learning that integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math. Students are challenged to work collaboratively, engage in critical thinking, and problem solve while in a creative and student-centered classroom.

Once we grasped the concept of STEAM and what it means for us, we knew it was essential to create a vision statement that defined our destination. In the words of Stephen Covey, we needed to “begin with the end in mind.” For McSpedden Elementary, our vision is to create a model that provides a creative, challenging, out of the box thinking environment. We want our students to develop connections between Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math to ensure they are Future Ready and successful.

With our ‘why’ in mind along with the definition of STEAM and our vision, we reflected on past initiatives and realized a three-phase implementation approach would be best. The first phase in the 2018-19 school year included STEAM integration for extension activities during intervention and enrichment time and whole class lessons on Fridays. The second phase, this school year, is a semi-seamless STEAM integration in the regular school schedule and a continuation of the extension groups. The final phase in the 2020-21 school year will be a seamless STEAM integration with the full cross-curricular curriculum. This gradual implementation approach has proven to be less stressful for everyone and has allowed us time to reflect and refine as we develop best practices.

Like any successful journey, you must remember the travel essentials. For us, the most important essential is our STEAM Ambassadors, which includes two teachers from each grade level and the art teacher. It was important to us that this initiative be a grassroots effort led by teachers because they have the most impact on our students, it ensures their investment in fulfilling our vision, and they serve as cheerleaders for the rest of the staff. With their understanding of the pedagogy of STEAM and the TEKS, they wrote the scope and sequence and started developing lessons. Moreover, they began telling our story through social media, presentations and the district’s communications department. Our STEAM Ambassadors are the backbone of this initiative.

To make our journey easier, our road map includes various frameworks, such as the Plan of Work form which allows us to keep track of created lessons. In addition, we created a module for the extension groups, a whole class lesson template, a 4Cs rubric for K-2 and 3-5, and a cross-curricular planning document. As we use these documents, we continue to reflect and revise along the way. Our newest lesson template includes the steps of the LAUNCH Cycle based on the book, “Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student” by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. With these guidelines in place, our STEAM program has been more cohesive and structurally sound.

As with any journey, it is beneficial to have travel guides to help lead you in the right direction. Schools that have forged the path will be able to provide pearls of wisdom, motivation, and inspiration. One such guide for us was the staff at Cannon Elementary in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD. Several of our STEAM Ambassadors visited the campus and learned about Cannon’s journey. It allowed us to see students work together on various projects, review lesson plan templates and planning documents, and ask teachers questions. We were also able to obtain information about community partnership ideas and grants, how to solicit support from the parents, resource ideas, and much more. The knowledge we gained from Cannon Elementary’s experience and journey deeply impacted us. We hope to serve as a resource for other schools as more educational communities embrace the STEAM approach.

When we think about the journey we have traveled so far, we are grateful for the results and the success we have had. The feedback we received from our students and parents regarding our STEAM initiative has been extremely positive. Data shows, as a result of these efforts, our student engagement increased and produced exponential academic growth of students. We are excited to continue our STEAM journey as we continuously reflect and refine our program.

Sample STEAM Documents

Lisa Rubio, a 20-year educator, is currently earning a STEAM Certificate from Clemson University. She is the Digital Learning Coach at McSpedden Elementary and Tadlock Elementary in Frisco ISD.

Kranti Singh has been an educator in Texas for more than 10 years. She is Principal at McSpedden Elementary in Frisco ISD and a TEPSA member.

TEPSA News, January/February 2020, Vol 77, No 1

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