Children typically respond better to hands-on and themed activities.
According to Karen Heitlinger, chair of the Center for Early Childhood at The Music Settlement in Cleveland, and Yoel Schwartz, principal, general studies at Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights, schools are accommodating these trends by adding STEAM education to their classrooms.
“There are many reasons why we are investing so much energy in this format of teaching,” Schwartz said. “In short, our goal is to prepare students for an unknown future of what skills and requirements will be needed to be successful.”
Heitlinger added, “Not only do hands-on and STEAM activities provide opportunities to try, experiment, manipulate and learn, they also foster the growth of confidence and frustration tolerance in children and adults. STEAM allows and encourages play, which is how children learn.”
STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, has a “creative and forward thinking” role at Hebrew Academy of Cleveland.
“Our elementary school has added (project-based learning) activities in each grade,” Schwartz said. “We had our first Science Exploration Day, where each grade participated in a culminating (project-based learning) experience at the same time. We incorporated many of the science standards through the project philosophy.”
First graders at Hebrew Academy learn about healthy communities; fourth graders learn about ecosystems; fifth graders learned about forces and motion by creating theme park rides, and sixth graders had an Invention Convention.
At the Music Settlement, STEAM is incorporated throughout all classrooms as well as the curriculum.
“Each classroom has a science center that has a monthly theme that rotates and focuses mainly on natural sciences, such as the life cycle of a plant or water or birds of Ohio,” Heitlinger explained. “Each classroom also offers ‘maker stations’ or independent creation/invention centers that young children can engineer, design and problem-solve new ideas and inventions.”
Outside of individual classrooms, Heitlinger said the early childhood program has something called a “science specialist.”
“The science specialists facilitate a group instruction of a concept, then the students make predictions and test their theories and guesses by doing experiments related to the new concept presented,” she said. “This focuses more on chemistry and physics concepts than activities in the classroom science centers do.”
Children learn various skills in STEAM educational opportunities.
“STEAM ignites aspects of the brain that are unique but essential for networked or connected learning,” Heitlinger explained. “To be able to engage, then to articulate the experience or the result, or to draw. ... This further makes hardwired connections in learning and the brain. STEAM is full foundational learning, not science specific.”
Schwartz added, “More than any specific content area that one can just ask Siri to answer, we need to teach students how to think, how to wrestle with real-world problems and how to deal with frustration. It’s about learning to persevere with grit to complete a project.”
Selecting a STEAM learning opportunity comes down to one’s comfort with “messiness.”
“Good programs are hands-on, and learning can take a few tries to take hold and practice or play with a new concept,” Heitlinger said. “This brings learning to life. If a parent is not interested in ‘getting messy’ at home, they should find a program that has outdoor or cooking opportunities that their child can explore.”