By Dayna Wells, Principal of Point Fermin Marine Science Magnet School
Oh, did you think it meant something different?
Me too. At first, before last year happened.
It was a classroom full of fifth graders that taught me the true meaning of STEAM education.
With the amount of information available nearly doubling every 12 hours*, we can no longer afford for our schools to be information delivery systems. Students cannot simply parrot back facts, dates, and content. Instead, students must learn to pose seminal questions, conduct research, define a problem, evaluate and categorize information, gather data and assess the larger issues revealed. Students need to leave school equipped to think critically. Otherwise, we risk sending them into a world that is all too ready to tell them what to think, feel and believe. In school, their healthy sense of skepticism must be cultivated, charged and activated.
AltaSea Supports STEAM in Schools
Fourth & fifth graders filled the auditorium at our seaside school last fall, gazing intently as they virtually jumped on board the E/V Nautilus with live-connected scientist researchers. Students squealed with sheer delight as the rover, Hercules, moved along the ocean floor at the tip of the Baja peninsula. Science in action. Kids were part of it. They rushed to ask questions, talk to those on board and they watched with wide-eyed wonder at the critters they saw.
Back in the classroom, the experience resonated. Students were inspired. They talked. They shared. They listened. They wrote. Then they began developing science and engineering projects to address some of the real problems facing our oceans. One fifth-grader created a large flat net powered by the wind which was designed to scoop trash from the ocean’s surface. Another created a fishing net designed to eliminate by-catch. One group of fourth graders designed a reusable filtration device to trail behind a boat absorbing leaking fuel and exhaust.
La Kretz Blue Economy Incubator Connections Spark a Fire
This innovative think tank at AltaSea proved extremely valuable for our school’s understanding of what it means to engineer change. Putting people in proximity makes a difference. Alice Taylor of Los Angeles Maritime Institute and Joe Platnick of Pasadena Angels brought their expertise to our teaching staff. Our collaborative session focused on student interests and expanding our vision for the work kids are doing. Teachers came away with concrete ideas on how to help students develop their ideas into projects that could actually be marketed. If a child could find a problem that moved them to action – such as ocean pollution – we could teach them to take that idea down a replicable path. We could guide them towards creating a series of increasingly viable solutions, evaluating and developing the most promising. Alice and Joe offered to come back and listen to students as they pitched their inventions, a sort of student Shark Tank.
The Fifth Graders Who Could
Last Spring, fifth-grade students became passionate about social justice. An article students read about gender stereotypes coupled with research on the gender bias exemplified by marketing of toys to boys vs. girls brought up interesting classroom conversations. Students began speaking out about ways they felt limited by societal expectations based on their gender. The pink and blue toy thing really bothered them. Much of what they read pointed to a bigger problem.
“Being limited because of your gender is damaging across a lifetime,” said Sophia.
“Girls who don’t go for doing science because they’ve always been given the message they can’t is not okay,” Emma agreed.
“Boys who are artistic are often told they can’t be artists because they are boys,” Jaden chimed in. “That is not okay either.”
Supported by their skillful teacher, students started to consider how they could make a difference.
“I was blown away by the passion and ingenuity these students demonstrated. Some people mistakenly think social justice issues are best left until students get older. Clearly these 5th graders proved otherwise. I am honored to have provided the environment that allowed for them to flourish in their thinking and engineering.” – Renee Bazant, Fifth grade teacher
Students Develop Toy Store of the Future
After identifying these societal inequities, students wanted a change. They wanted a toy store that “didn’t stereotype girls and boys.” They wanted a toy store that enlarged its’ definition of gender to include a larger spectrum. They wanted a toy store that was not limiting. They wanted a toy store that encouraged children of any gender to explore their interests and build their skills and abilities. They conceived of a gender-neutral toy store. They decided to work in mixed-gender teams to develop toys for their toy store. Their teacher supported them wholeheartedly, giving them a few parameters:
- Develop & build a prototype of your toy or game.
- Package the Toy considering USPS / UPS box sizes & shipping costs
- Determine manufacturing costs based on weight & overall profit margin
- Create a company trademark & toy logo
- Write a product “jingle” and record it to music
- Write, direct, and video record a commercial
Students were on fire creating the toy store they envisioned. And at Open House last spring the whole school was treated to their Futuristic Toy Store. The overarching color? Purple of course, the perfect blend of the pink and blue toy aisles. Someone in the class even conceived of a force shield that would keep anyone from stealing toys. In so doing, they did not just do a science experiment. They lived and breathed the principles of the new Next Generation Science Standards. They developed and used models; they planned and carried out investigations, used mathematical and computational thinking, considered scale, proportion, and quantity.
Students were actively engaged from conception to production, from idea to product. They found a problem in the world and set out to fix it. I have no doubt these kids are ready to go bravely into the world knowing that they have the power to see a problem, grow an idea and to truly change the world. Now, that’s seriously terrific energizing activities that matter – STEAM.
Click here to see one the Robo-buddy group’s commercial!
*Buckminster Fuller’s Knowledge Doubling Curve