by Cynthia Mendoza
What do you get when you combine science, technology, engineering, art, and math? A lot of “steam” that helps propel elementary students in critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and other life skills.
At the newly opened STEAM lab at La Sierra Academy, students engage in hands-on learning in the various disciplines in a way that is practical and fun and helps them navigate the world around them.
“We wanted to create the opportunity for real-world experiences. It’s an excellent way of learning,” said Elizabeth Muñoz-Beard, head principal. “Students really enjoy it and talk to their parents about what they did.”
The idea for a STEAM lab is an extension of the concept of STEM education, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math—but with an art component as well, adding the A. “It’s important for students to work with both sides of the brain,” said Sarah Ebner, art teacher, regarding the addition of the art component, which utilizes more creative thinking.
The STEAM Lab is a project-based classroom that is available to all students in grades TK to 6. Students can work on projects that include coding, electronics, 3-D design and printing, designing and building birdhouses, creating e-books, video production, and more.
The process of engaging in these projects includes identifying a real-world problem, asking questions to explore and solve the problem, developing solutions, and then exploring hands-on activities that bring all those elements together.
In the STEAM lab, students are graded on three criteria: their learning target (what they are expected to know and able to do by the end of the lesson); their developed strength (identification of their strongest talents and skills); and self-reflection and feedback (they identify what they did, what they enjoyed, difficulties, what worked, and what they would do differently next time).
The practical skills, as well as the critical and creative thinking that the entire process requires from start to finish, also help prepare students for college and future careers.
On the spiritual side, through engagement in the STEAM lab, students also learn a practical application of Colossians 3:23, which says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (NKJV).
“Students are loving it,” Ebner said about the students’ STEAM lab experience. “There is an atmosphere of learning and excitement in doing things they don’t usually get to do.”