Friday, February 9, 2018

When Teachers Play in the STEAM Lab, Part I


Misunderstanding the directions for this
chain building activity proved to be an
opportunity for this group of teachers.
Feelings of frustration led to healthy
competition and creative problem solving.
On February 2, our teachers participated in STEAM professional development, led by our consultant, Sherri Kohr.
The teachers used wall space to design
a machine that would quickly collect all
the marbles that tend to roll all over the
floor. This is the kind of activity that's
much easier to do in a large, open room.

So, what is STEAM, exactly?

STEAM is a way of thinking about problems and solutions. The Lab is where questioning, thinking, theorizing; creating, building, exploring; making mistakes, failing, feeling frustrated; critical thinking, problem solving, experiential learning; cooperating, collaborating, negotiating; persisting, trying again, and celebrating will happen.

The STEAM Lab gives our preschoolers the room to do all of the above. It's a wide-open space, perfect for building large structures that would be too big or unwieldy for our classrooms. There are also materials and equipment in the Lab that we wouldn’t be able to have in our classrooms due to space restrictions, like the Light Laboratory. There's also a large sensory table, which not everyone has the space for. There are three shelving units: one for exploration, one for building, and one for creating. 

With a few exceptions, most everything in the room is open-ended. An important component of STEAM is that the materials and experiences provided do not have predetermine outcomes. This isn't about us creating experiments for the children to follow, knowing full well what the children will learn. It's about them asking, What happens if?, and us providing them with what they need to figure out the answers themselves.
What happens if you sprinkle salt on
an ice cube? What happens if you
blow on an ice cube? What happens
if you hold an ice cube in your hand?
Which way will get the ice cube to
melt the fastest?

The Lab will change over time. What you see in there today will likely be different a few months from now. That's the whole point. While we will keep a few anchor pieces, the other materials will get changed up as we pay attention to how the children are engaging with the materials and determine new challenges for them. The room will also evolve as our understanding of STEAM evolves.

The Lab isn't overstuffed with materials, either. We’ve decided to keep things relatively simple so there's time to explore what's there before something new comes in. 



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