Education Summit: STEAM’s ‘ah-ha’ moments

Two years ago, Heidelberg’s Education Department and professors Dr. Stacey Pistorova and Dr. Lindsey Haubert created a blossoming partnership with one Tiffin City Schools teacher, Jennifer Gressman, who collaborated to offer a STEAM curriculum to her Krout Elementary School third-graders. Today, the partnership has grown to eight teachers, and the sky’s the limit.

Three of the partner teachers – Jennifer, Samantha Demmerley, ’16, and Leigh Alvarado – joined Stacey to present The Heidelberg STEAM Initiative as the keynote for the seventh annual Education Summit on Thursday. The initiative, supported by a Martha Holden Jennings grant, launched TEACH-n-STEAM, short for Teachers Engaging All Students in STEAM, collaboration.

“The stars are the teachers who implement STEAM in their classrooms,” said Stacey. Each of them shared stories and “a-ha moments” about the projects they implemented in their classrooms and how the STEAM curriculum has produced creative thinkers and problem solvers.

“If we want innovative students, we have to be innovative teachers. The question is, ‘How do we get there with the systems we have in place?’” Stacey said.

“Ah-ha” moments

Jennifer spoke about incorporating STEAM bins in her classroom, filled with such items as blocks and Legos that allow students to work collaboratively and creatively to solve problems. “It changed everything,” she said. “Integrating STEAM into our curriculum, there was such a positive engagement with students who took control of their own learning. We’re creating problem solvers.”

Samantha guided her students through an egg drop challenge, during which they had to budget and purchase materials and find a way to keep their eggs from breaking while they were dropped on the playground. “They loved designing their projects,” she said. And they did very well. By the final challenge, 9 of 10 eggs made it safely to the ground without breaking.

The beauty of STEAM content, the teachers agreed, is that the teachers can promote creativity and collaboration in the classroom while connecting with standards.

The ‘art’ in STEAM

For the second half of the opening presentation, assistant professor of theatre Stephen Svoboda and adjunct theatre instructor David Cotter shared the results of a project they established in inner-city Syracuse, New York, that focused on “what STEAM can be if you look at the arts differently.”

Through the Redhouse Arts Center, where Stephen was executive artistic director and David was the director of education, they developed an arts program that changed the perception of thousands of students, parents, teachers and peers.

The art in STEAM “is not a noodle necklace. It is not a drawing. It is so much more,” Stephen said.

Through accessibility, activation and altering perceptions, Stephen and David’s arts curriculum through Redhouse inspired learning through creativity and incorporated STEAM concepts at the same time.

Teachers taught literacy through Morse code, which was then applied to drumming. They taught choreography through graphing and history by having students create infomercials. There were many other examples, including staging performances regularly, making the kids superstars for a day and giving them a source of pride in their learning.

The arts classes produced a series of unexpected but welcome benefits: They changed student behavior, teachers’ perception of teaching and the community, especially parents, got more engaged with the school district.

Initially, the program touched 1,500 students, pre-K to sixth grade at six schools every day with high-quality core content integrated with artistic skills and community building, said David. “The schools became the center of change … It transformed their perception of school, their parents’ perception of school and gave them a way to succeed.”

Three years after Stephen and David departed, the program is still going strong, now serving about 4,500 students through eighth grade.

The Education Summit continues today with ‘Berg pre-service and in-service teachers participating in a series of breakout sessions with the keynote presenters and classroom teachers, a panel discussion and the Kappa Delta Pi (education honorary) initiation of Heidelberg’s Alpha Psi Chapter.

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