In February, I hustle down the science hall pushing my STEAM cart ahead of me. After parking the cart in my office, I review its contents, from the Mayan headdress supplies to the tub that contains supplies for my next lesson.
I grab the tub and head to the parking lot. After unrolling wire and placing an overturned terra cotta pot in just the right location—not under a tree, away from parked cars, easily seen from the carpool lane—with a note to not disturb it, I head down to Ms. Caroline and Ms. Monique’s Kindergarten classroom.
The students and I discuss their recent arrival in Pompeii during their “travels” around Italy, and they are eager to learn more about the famous Mount Vesuvius. I tell them that I am so excited to be their tour guide on their morning field trip to see Mount Trinity, a composite volcano similar to Mount Vesuvius. The students line up at the door with their field trip buddies, and Ms. Caroline and Ms. Monique agree to be the “bus driver” and “photographer” while
I run to be in position when they arrive in the carpool lane.
Once we’re all outside, I explain to the students that composite volcanoes are highly explosive and are known
for their pyroclastic flows, which are different from shield volcanoes that are characterized by red, continuously flowing lava. I point out the overturned pot and tell them that they are viewing Mount Trinity. One student expresses indignation that it does not tower thousands of feet in the air and another asks if they can get closer. I tell the class that we need to view dangerous composite volcanoes from a great distance, and I also reassure them that while Mount Trinity may lack height, all composite volcanoes have impressive eruptions.
After the group does a countdown, I press the button on my model rocket launch controller to ignite Mount Trinity. There is a muffled pop, then the hissing sound of steam. Sparks and ash begin to fly out of the pot to the delighted cheers of Kindergartners. But it is when the charred pieces of sugar that I used as fuel continue to pour out and ooze over the rim of Mount Trinity that the students’ jaws really drop.
After the eruption, I answer students’ questions about how Mount Trinity worked. While the “volcano” is still
too warm to let the students near it, I gather some charred sugar so that the students can look at our “pyroclastic flow.” Several students comment that this charred sugar smells like campfire marshmallows, and the class makes a good inference that marshmallows might be made of a lot of sugar.
To end the lesson, the class circles around Mount Trinity about 10 minutes after the eruption finishes, and while they are several feet away from the now extinct volcano, they are amazed that they can still feel heat coming off the terra cotta. And as the class makes their way back to their classroom and I clean up the remnants of Mount Trinity, I think to myself, “I have the best job ever.”
I am Trinity School’s STEAM Integration Specialist. This role acts as an instructional coach for integrated studies in the Kindergarten through Fourth Grade classrooms. I model and deliver science and STEAM lessons,
collaborate with the base classroom teachers to design and implement new integrated lessons, and deliver in-house professional development focused on STEAM.
Funded by a three-year grant from The Goizueta Foundation, the STEAM Integration Specialist position was introduced last school year. The Foundation partners with schools that support “the implementation of inspiring and promising academic programs in schools” around STEAM and that share their focus on inspirational leadership, a love of learning, creative thinking, courage and commitment, transparency and trust, and excellence and integrity. The Goizueta Foundation’s core principles align with Trinity’s program and pedagogy pillars of building academic and character foundations; deepening students’ educational experience; empowering students in their learning; and fostering continued curiosity, creativity, and confidence.
STEM and STEAM have become every curriculum publisher and toy manufacturer’s favorite way to describe their products, and with good reason. The U.S. Department of Education’s website on STEM reminds us that, “in an ever-changing, increasingly complex world, it’s more important than ever that our nation’s youth are prepared to bring knowledge and skills to solve problems, make sense of information, and know how to gather and evaluate evidence to make decisions.”
STEAM integrated studies allow our students to do this. We know that many of them will have careers in industries that haven’t been invented yet, and these problem-solving, sense-making, and evaluating skills will help them navigate issues we can’t even imagine. Trinity stands out from other schools in that our STEAM studies are not a standalone course or an isolated experience or unit; we integrate STEAM into the work and curriculum of our base classrooms. In Visible Learning for Science: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning, the authors state that, “Science classrooms where teachers see learning through the eyes of their learners and learners see themselves as their own teachers provide the greatest learning environments [emphasis in original],” (page 2). Because we’re integrating STEAM into base classrooms’ curriculum, our teachers do see learning through the eyes of their students, and our students absolutely see themselves as their own teachers.
While the Trinity-supported professional development opportunities I have taken, my background as a science teacher, and my specialist’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and doctoral work in Teacher Leadership have prepared me for developing lessons that integrate STEAM and assisting teachers in their STEAM integration, over the last year I have discovered there is still much to learn about how to develop and deliver engaging lessons to elementary-aged students. I have learned how much talent and passion Trinity Teachers have and share with our students every day. For nine years, I taught Trinity Sixth Graders and had the enviable position of working with students who had benefited from the full Trinity Experience. In the last year, I have seen the myriad of small steps, guided by amazing educators, that goes into getting those young people ready to be the Leadership Class.
I want our students to see how interconnected all learning is and how their strengths in one academic arena
can support and propel their learning and understanding in other areas. I want them to be excited to build their own knowledge base by exploring their questions. I want Trinity students to see themselves as problem solvers who are willing to work to find answers and solutions that might not be immediately apparent. And I want to help them on their journey of being lifelong learners.
My role helps teachers feel confident in their science teaching and empowered to blend academic topics. We collaborate so that they see how powerful lessons can be when we allow student inquiry and creative exploration to drive the learning. And our work of designing and delivering STEAM lessons builds on our learning progressions work so that our faculty builds a community of experts who are better together.
Almarode, John, et. al. Visible Learning for Science: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2018.
Goizueta Foundation. “Who We Are: Focus and Shared Values.” The Goizueta Foundation. www.goizuetafoundation.org (accessed July 13, 2019).
U.S. Department of Education. “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.” Ed.gov. www.ed.gov/stem (accessed August 10, 2019).
Written by: Kate Burton, STEAM Integration Specialist