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Langdon Area Elementary School working on STEAM

The students at Langdon Area Elementary School (LEAS) are moving full STEAM ahead.

Posted on 2/21/15

By Melissa Anderson

The students along with staff at the elementary school are working on STEAM, (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) projects as part of this year’s winter doldrums.

Each year, the school takes time to break up the dreariness of the winter with fun, educational activities. In the past, the school has taken two afternoons, one for the younger grades and one for the older grades where they would choose a few fun activities, to do, board games, crafts, even lefse making. After a few years it was decided to try something new, so last year the school held LAES Winter Olympics. It was a huge success, with students paired across grade levels and were able to do a variety of Olympic type sports all while learning about a new country.

This year, committee members, Missy Hiltner, Mitch Jorgensen and Amy Freier wanted to continue with the combined grade levels, but with a science approach.

“Last year, was so successful in part because we mixed the students up, putting them with others that were not in their grade and encouraged them to work together as a team. This year, we wanted to use that approach as we focused on science,” Freier said.

After spending some time looking at various options, Hiltner found activities that embraced STEAM, all the while encouraging the students to have fun and think creatively.

“The STEAM activities promote critical thinking skills with hands on activities while still aligning to the Common Core State Standards. It was important to us to create an environment of team building and problem solving while having fun learning something new! The common core has been a bit controversial across the country, but the standards themselves when implemented properly research shows, are a great way for students to learn and become independent thinkers!” Hiltner explained.

There has been a continual push for STEAM nationwide. STEAM director, Georgette Yakman, founding researcher at STEAM Education, “explains the concept by asking people what they do for a living, then pointing out that their careers incorporate all of the subjects that they studied in school. Rather than teach those subjects in a vacuum, STEAM programs integrate them in an inquiry-based, hands-on curriculum that more closely aligns with what -students will experience in college and the workforce”

At LAES, the students in their teams of nine, will spend five Wednesdays doing ten different activities. These activities range from making plastic cup towers, marshmallow shooters, paper chairs that hold stuff animals, building bird beaks. Each Wednesday, each group works on the same two activities, they spend time planning the best way to create, construct and complete each challenge. They talk together about the best way to use the supplies and then they spend time at the end of each activity talking about the success and failures they encountered. The skills they learn during the first four weeks of STEAM, will then be put to use on the final STEAM day as they will face each other in a STEAM showdown.

Each activity requires the teams to work together, think through the challenge and come up with a solution using the supplies given.

“It is important for the students to think ‘outside the box,’ while working together to complete these tasks. Because this is not a typically learning activity, we are seeing the students think more creatively, and work corroboratively on each project.” Freier said, “It is always refreshing to watch an older student help out a younger student, and this really encourages the students to work together and to value the input of each member of their team.”

Working together as a team has been one of the stand out favorite reasons why the students of LAES enjoy this year’s doldrums activities.

Both Autumn Howatt, fifth grader, and Taryn Romfo, third grader, were quick to respond with working as a team as their favorite part.

Each team has an adult leader, but their role is very limited this year. They are there to watch and help if needed, but the committee really wanted to make sure the students are the ones doing all the hands on aspects of the activity.

Because of the nature of the activities, each team is given a container with the supplies they can use for that activity, other supplies such as those found in a typical classroom can not be used. This lends to the need to be creative in their thinking, something that fifth grader, Rebekah Wells enjoys, “I like the creative part of this.”

As the students go full STEAM ahead, their minds are full of new, fun and creative ways to accomplish tasks.