Building up a head of STEAM

“Thoughts are but dreams till their effects be tried”
The Rape of Lucrece

Last week was one of those amazing weeks you occasionally have in teaching where you seem to have momentum. Things fall into place and you just thrive on this positive energy. The energy is a self fulfilling cycle and drives further successes in the classroom. It makes me aware of the impending grinding halt that is probably around the corner!

When we were in California a few schools (notably education for change) described adding an A to STEM to balance their curriculum. The focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is pushed to also include the arts. This is something as a failed musician I certainly appreciate. To this end Friday’s lab was accompanied by some vinyl records blending the digital and analog worlds.


Blue Monday, Gershwin and Talking Heads + Science = My happyness

Friday’s lab was the apex of the week as the technology was incorporated into a very teacher directed lab to create an individualized experience that built social interactions and incorporated all learners. The content of the lesson focused on HR Diagrams as a way to describe the variety and vastness of stars in the universe. It also involved a massive amount of data analysis, strengthening math skills they have been practicing all week.

I utilized edmodo and blendspace for digital capabilities and stepped back from whole group teaching. I started by asking group discussion questions on edmodo but requesting direct post answers. By doing this I was able to direct students to engage with the x&y axis of the unfinished graph and start to think about what it would measure. I could then see answers from all students and use their observations to drive the next step in the process.

Interestingly they wrote and recorded ideas while having simultaneous verbal and written debates. Some kids talked, others wrote, all were thoroughly engaged. They slowly pieced together what each axis would measure. They already had stars on their table and were challenged to think about where they went. Again students collaborated online and in person. Before they started the activity I was able to check for understanding by asking a poll question on where a particular star would go.

After 10 minutes of cutting, sticking and listening to Talking Heads this was their creation:


At this point I was able to take what had been a highly social, group project and make it more individualized. I directed assignments and questions to individual students using the small group and direct post functions on edmodo.

This gave me further data on what content each student needed. I directed them to BlendSpace and gave them tips on what content would support their learning. Each student progressed through the lesson at their own pace but all experienced success.

This was a really empowering lesson for all of us but it was only possible because we have been working incredibly hard on practicing using the platforms and building the culture needed for this learning. The students are engaged and excited which means that they use the platforms respectfully and appropriately.

My experience with 3rd grade is quite different as I am also experimenting with how Personalized Learning might work without technology. I have divided each lab into stations and work with one group to discuss a key concept while the other stations are completely hands-on. They have to problem solve and follow directions to work out how the materials might be used.

The learning becomes personalized as they get to spend 15 minutes working in a ratio of 1:3 with their teacher. I am also giving them freedom over how they interact with the labs and this control teaches them scientific rigor. This happens because they have an opportunity to create their own test making the realization of what they could have done more powerful. They already engage in the concept and are invested in debating what happened and how it could be improved.

All of these early experiments make me very hopeful that Personalized Learning is challenging students as much as it challenges us as teachers. It is making everyone’s work more powerful, personal and profound. The question is how to keep up the downhill momentum?


One thought on “Building up a head of STEAM

  1. Hi James, I’m glad you got something out of your visit to EFC. We were happy to host all of you. Definitely feel free to reach out if you ever want to learn more. One of our schools, Ascend, is doing some great work as an Arts Expeditionary school.
    All the best to you.

    -Sundar Chari
    Director of Innovation & Technology
    Education for Change

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