Image courtesy of one of my first-grade classes. Yes, that’s a cinder block brick being supported by only toothpicks connected with pieces of gummy worms!
November 8 was National STEM/STEAM Day, and I got to spend it interacting with students from across Georgia who were showcasing their work at the Georgia Educational Technology Conference! It was inspiring, as you can probably imagine.
There is a big push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) focused lessons in education, and more recently STEAM (STEM + the arts). When I first started to incorporate STEM activities, or at least what I thought qualified as STEM, I focused on science and math performance tasks that made use of educational technology. I guess you could call what I was doing as “STAM,” since I did incorporate art elements in my projects.
It didn’t take me long to realize that what I was doing, while very beneficial, wasn’t really STEM/STEAM. I fell victim to the misconception that engineering had to mean constructing some kind of 3D functioning model. I also had the misguided notion that technology meant digital technology. As I learned more about engineering, I began to understand that it wasn’t the construction part that I had to incorporate into my lessons, but rather the design process. There’s always a product, but it’s not always physical, and it’s truly never “finished.” I also became aware of the need for myself and others to take the definition of technology into consideration when talking about implementing it in our lessons. It doesn’t have to be digital. I now discuss with my students how technology is the inventing or innovating of something new that can be used to make our lives easier. So, really, technology and engineering go hand in hand.
So, it was exciting to see what STEM/STEAM activities some students have been doing in other schools. From coding robots to perform specific dance moves to building and programming circuit boards to perform a certain function, such as light a bulb or play a sound, to innovating ways to grow crops on Mars, students were engaged with these relatively new to education skills.