Inspiring Ideas at the STEAM Fair

by Mollie Morneau, Junior Kindergarten Teacher and Chair of the STEAM Fair

More than just an acronym, STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics) represents a way of thinking, growing, and learning through hands-on experimentation and critical-thinking challenges. STEAM projects are inherently interdisciplinary – they drive us to develop methods or propose solutions through actions like creating, designing, building, and testing.

This past weekend, The Langley School hosted hundreds of enthusiastic community members at our second annual STEAM Fair which offered families the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and dig into the integrated business of work and play.

Here are a few STEAM projects that you can do at home. Note that the instructions are deliberately vague:

  • If you were given 20 sticks of dry spaghetti, one yard of tape, and one yard of string, what kind of tower would you build that could suspend a marshmallow in the air? This type of activity is based in the reality of limited resources, but allows for children – and their parents – to approach it in a multitude of ways.
  • Offer your child a selection of materials such as popsicle sticks, plastic spoons, rubber bands, and binder clips. Challenge him or her to create a catapult that will fling a cotton ball or a marshmallow across the room! Can you create one that launches straight up in the air, or does the cotton ball go sideways? Is it possible to focus your aim in order to hit a specific target? You may be surprised at how creative your child can be when given raw materials and a goal grounded in his or her natural sense of experimentation and play.
  • Gather a handful of objects to build an “artbot” that moves across the table with marker “legs” that draw as it walks. The Digital Harbor Foundation has basic instructions for several different models; the version we made at the STEAM Fair requires a 4.5V round mini motor, a AA battery casing with wire leads, an eraser or cork to destabilize the movement, a cup, markers, and tape. Slight variations in the placement of materials had a great impact on the artwork created, and students at the STEAM Fair delighted in discovering how their robots could operate!

In addition to incorporating physics-based thinking like how shape and spatial relationship affect a structure’s design and a process of scientific experimentation, these types of challenges encourage social-emotional growth, an area we nurture in equal measure at Langley.

It can be frustrating when something breaks or when a carefully conceived design has the opposite of the intended effect. We build resilience and a growth mindset when we see these supposed “failures” as anything but – in fact, as children’s book character Rosie Revere realizes, these initial prototypes are often the “perfect first try.” Throughout our STEAM Fair, families could be found tackling the posed problems with a spirit of collaboration and innovation that only grew with each temporary roadblock they encountered.

Langley STEAM Fair 2017In addition to hands-on challenges, the STEAM Fair provided a venue for young scientists to present their work and for families to explore all that Langley has to offer. As the site of the science fair for grades 6 and 7, the auditorium was filled not only with the buzz of students eagerly explaining their findings to judges and parents, but also with the literal buzz of remote-controlled robots using claws to move objects across the stage.

Families were treated to technology demonstrations of our 3-D printer as well as a myriad of iPad-based educational games offered by Osmo. Our librarians staffed a carefully curated selection of STEAM-themed books geared for all ages in our book nook. Free LEGO play and magnetic tiles provided an outlet for creativity to visitors of all ages, and free tickets to the awe-inspiring planetarium show “sold out” as families jumped at the opportunity to take a detailed look at constellations and planets in our night sky.

154Truly, there was something for everyone at Langley’s second annual STEAM Fair. Ours is a community of students and parents whose spirit of imagination and ingenuity seems boundless and we are thankful for the chance to continue to explore and grow alongside them!

Preparing Our Students for Their Digital Futures

by Brad Lands, Director of Technology

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” -John Dewey

It’s not surprising that we currently live in a world that is highly unpredictable and constantly evolving. It’s not surprising that technology seems to be exponentially increasing and global issues seem to be getting more complicated. What is surprising, however, is the fact that we as educators have to prepare our students for a future in which they will become productive and contributing members in this world.

Our role

Gone are the days where educators stand and deliver information and have students memorize basic facts that they might need to use some day. Students can easily perform a quick Google search on a mobile device to find this information. In today’s world, our job is to help our students become creative, critical thinkers who can learn how to access and use the world’s information to help them solve complex problems.

Traditional models of education require students to solve problems for which we know the solutions. One example is providing students with multiple-choice assessments. Alternatively, we as educators need to engage students in curriculum via inquiry-based learning, where students are empowered to ask their own questions and tackle problems for which the solutions are unknown. More importantly, we need to allow our students to struggle with these learning tasks, encourage them to troubleshoot, and praise their efforts when they persevere.

Technology at Langley

How do we do this?

Below are just a few of the inquiry-based projects in which Langley students have taken part this year:

20time Project Elective: In this Middle School elective, students are empowered to choose what they want to learn about, and are strongly encouraged to select challenging topics that have a real purpose outside of the classroom. This course is modeled after Google’s 20% time. Embedded in Google’s corporate culture is the concept of allowing engineers to take on independent projects. This unofficial policy lets them invest 20 percent of their work time on self-led explorations to solve real problems. Throughout Langley’s course, our students simulate this workplace experience by using the power of technology to identify problems, ask meaningful questions, pitch project proposals, develop solutions, present their ideas, and iterate their solutions. In other words, this course is designed to encourage the kind of “moonshot” thinking required to create novel solutions to unsolved problems, thereby helping to prepare students for future-ready innovation.

STEAM Challenge: Earlier this month, Langley fourth-graders engaged in a week-long STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) workshop where they experimented with physical computing. They learned about electricity, circuits, and computer programming by creating their own interactive monster. Students were tasked with sewing a monster out of felt and using electronic components such as LED lights, mini-speakers, a circuit board, and conductive thread in order to program the monster to output light and sound. Moreover, students were able to make their monster unique by choosing different colors, sizes, shapes, and creative code patterns. As they problem-solved and worked together, students not only learned about computer programming, but also developed valuable life skills such as persistence, flexible thinking, and collaboration.

Hour of Code: In celebration of Computer Science Education week, Langley students from all three school divisions completed Hour of Code activities. For many of our Primary and Lower School students, this was their first exposure to computer programming and they really enjoyed it. These computer programming activities varied from basic directional coding, to block coding, to text-based coding in many different computer programming languages. Even though the activities were different for each school division, all students engaged in challenging, critical thinking in order to complete each activity. The best thing about these activities was that there were multiple ways to complete them. Students were able to be creative in their critical thinking in order to solve each of the challenges, demonstrating that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

STEAM Fair: Langley’s first STEAM Fair will be held on Saturday, February 6, 2016. This is a very exciting event for the Langley community because it not only raises awareness about the importance of STEAM education in our world today, but also highlights Langley’s effort and dedication to teach our students to become creative problem-solvers. This family event is open to all students in preschool through grade 8 and will showcase how students interact with STEAM education at Langley. The STEAM Fair will include a display area of student work, open Lego play, technology demonstrations, a STEAM Book Nook, and hands-on activities for families. This is the perfect opportunity for both parents and students to learn, play, think, and have fun while exploring STEAM education at Langley.

So what’s next?

If we want our students to become independent, lifelong learners, then we need to continue to implement these critical learning opportunities at Langley – opportunities that allow our students to be naturally curious and work together to solve complex problems, that allow them to use technology to access information and creatively communicate their understanding, and that value the process more than the product. If we can continue to provide our students with this type of innovative education, then we are on the right track to preparing them for their future in the digital age.

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