Friday, March 2, 2018

When Teachers Play in the STEAM Lab, Part 2

Last month, I outlined some of the foundational principles of the STEAM Lab. I also mentioned that our teachers had a chance to explore the Lab as part of their professional development day in early February. This month, I'd like to share some specific examples of the ways in which we use the STEAM Lab every week.
Sometimes the children will be given
challenges, just like our teachers were.
This group was challenged to move the 
Matchbox car, without using their hands.
They were given balloons, a magnet, 
tape, straws, and a cup.
This group was challenged to build a
house that wouldn't fall down. Their
materials? Two sheets of paper, two
paper clips, two band-aids, two
sticks of gum, and scissors. They did it!
We were reminded of the importance of
literature in STEAM, especially to pique
the children's interest. This fantastic picture
book is based on a true story. Check it out!

The children are introduced to engineering concepts at the ramps station, where they use ramps, balls, and tubes to construct trails and paths. They develop an understanding of physics-based concepts such as incline, elevation, mass, force, and motion in an organic way as they play. The children must work together to plan ahead, test their designs, fail at first, and then try again and again until they succeed.

In the beginning, the children were simply presented with the materials to explore. The next week, they were challenged to build a pathway that went from one end of the room to the other. The week after that, they were challenged to build a pathway that could carry a ball from one end of the room to the other. With each passing week, the pathways get more sophisticated as the children become more familiar with the materials and their confidence grows.

At the light laboratory the children explore the color, hue, and intensity of light by controlling the table’s knobs. They mix red, green, and blue light to create a rainbow of colors, and use multi-colored translucent discs and cups to discover even more about colors and color mixing. Added features such as a marble board, weaving ring, drawing board, and messy material tray offer the children opportunities to practice other skills with the added element of light and color, for an experience that keeps them engaged for extended periods of time.

The creation station currently is outfitted with all different kinds of paper and paper-like materials of different thicknesses and textures for cutting. Just cutting. There’s wrapping paper, recycled coffee bags, old x-rays, rolls of receipt tape, cardboard, gift bags, running bibs from old 5K races, note cards, paint color chips, and much more. After spending weeks cutting, and building up the muscles in their hands and becoming more dexterous, the children sorted all the cut pieces by color and have begun creating color collages. Soon, the creation station will become an area for color mixing, and each child will mix and name their own color of paint.

Finally, the sensory table is currently filled with unrolled VHS tape, silvery icicles, and magnets. Because these materials are so novel (most sensory tables are filled with rice or beans), the children initially didn’t know what to make of them. But many soon learned that with one big swirling motion you could gather up most of the tape and icicles in one hand. One friend even “poured” the tape all over his body; thankfully, the cleanup was quick and easy. The look of surprise on children’s faces when they picked up the magnet wands and discovered all the magnetic pieces at the bottom of the table was precious. They delighted in finding this “treasure.” Now that we’ve had fun with these unusual materials and since Pesach is right around the corner, we’ll be filling up the table with water soon. The children will be challenged to create a basket out of tinfoil for Moses that can hold a few pennies, and they’ll be challenged to see if they can get the waters to “split.”

These are just a few of the stations and materials in our STEAM Lab right now. It will continue to grow and evolve over time. Thank you again to everyone who has made this possible. Your generosity has been overwhelming. Todah rabah!

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