Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Attending a STEAM School

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By: Emma B.

Oftentimes, a large and overwhelming problem in modern day society is the next generation. Many people wonder how their children will learn the skills they need in order to be a productive and active member of society. School systems have made many attempts at working their way around this issue, but the programs grabbing the most attention out of them all are STEM & STEAM. These two programs eventually became so large that they started having entire schools dedicated to them. However recently, the program getting more attention of the two has become the STEAM program. There are only a few STEAM schools in the entirety of the United States and even fewer in the state of Georgia. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to attend Duluth Georgia’s STEAM School, Coleman Middle School. This school is rather different from any other school I’ve ever experienced, and I’d like to share my thoughts as to why going to a STEAM school (if handled by the right people of course) can be an amazing experience.
What are STEM & STEAM:
If I had to guess, half of you reading this article have absolutely no idea what the heck a STEAM school even is. However before we define STEAM, we have to define what S.T.E.M is. This is because one builds and improves upon things established in the other. So that leaves the question, what is S.T.E.M? Well, it is a variation of the common core that puts science, technology, engineering and math in the focus (hence the acronym). This is because they were considered 21st century skills that students needed to build a brighter future for themselves. However, even though this system was okay, many professionals considered its thought process to be outdated. This is because the arts and history were completely ignored in this program. This meant they were ignoring entire sections of other 21st century skills that shined through with the arts. So the program was adjusted and from it the STEAM program was born. This program was roughly the same as STEM, except it incorporates the arts (once again, hence the acronym). This allows for far more potential than STEM could offer so it was quickly implemented into the Gwinnett County School systems once they redistricted. That is how my current middle school, Coleman Middle School came about. Almost immediately, I noticed there were many things that made it different from other schools.
Relationships:
The first thing I feel makes going to a STEAM school much more unique is that the primary form of learning is learning how things relate to each other. This is in terms of both subjects & between students and teachers. STEM had bits and pieces of this, but STEAM definitely put it in the spotlight. Subject-wise, STEAM puts emphasis on the relationship between subjects and how they interconnect. For example it shows how a science projects uses not just science but math for calculating, language arts for putting your results down on paper, history for researching the history of the topic and arts for putting it together in a reasonable manner. These relationships make the learning environment a lot more fun and entertaining. This also makes the whole system far more balanced and easier to adapt to. They also incorporate arts and history, which makes writers and historians more involved the STEAM setting. This makes the learning environment a lot better.
There is another type of relationship building that happens in STEAM learning that doesn’t happen in other schools. That is the relationship between students and teachers. Oftentimes in middle school I find that children, in their stress, annoyance and frustration often see teachers as more of an object and not a person. The only time I haven’t seen this happen is when the teacher doesn’t give homework. However, I’ve noticed in the STEAM environment, it’s almost a priority for teachers and students to talk on a personal level. I regularly hear that the teachers are eager to get to know the students and work with them as long as they too are hardworking. However, by talking to kids on a personal level they are inspiring them to work a bit harder on the subconscious level.
The Daily Life:
At my STEAM school, a typical school day is rather different and suited to an environment for learning. A typical day usually starts off early in the morning with buses picking and dropping off students anywhere from 8:30-8:50. Then the schedule diverges based on what grade you’re in but I will be sharing my personal schedule. My first class in the school day is science class. Typically this class consists of either doing flipped classroom lessons (lessons where students teach themselves) or doing projects in 1 of 2 labs. As a side-note, this is the first school I’ve ever seen that has 2 labs per grade level. Anyway going on, in science is often when we analyze things for our PBL (project-based learning) projects. A project-based learning assignment is when we’re given at most 2-3 months to work on real life assignments and learn from them. For example recently, my PBL assignment is we’re given a crime scene situation in which we have 2-3 months to solve a crime. During science we use the current things we’re learning in order to gather evidence. The next class is Humanities. Now Humanities is different because it’s actually Language Arts and Social Studies combined into one class. This is because they both promote Language skills as well as understanding the past in order to comprehend and change the future. However this change was also made because with this change there are only 3 main classes. This means we have more time per class. Anyway, In Humanities we often talk about history and then incorporate language arts to write stories in various genres based off what we’ve learned. We even write some original stuff as well that is completely fictional. We also write our predictions and results for parts of the PBL project in this class as well. My final class period is Math class. In this class we primarily focus on solving calculations for PBL assignments but we also learn math skills that can help us every now and again in modern society. Finally the day ends off with Connections classes (or electives). Mine currently are 1 Semester Theater and Year-Long Advanced Orchestra. These classes usually are a refreshing break from the core 3 academics because you aren’t forced in a connections. 90% of the time you pick them yourself which is good for student engagement and time. Overall my days are usually very engaging and every class feels necessary because truly everything does connect, even the arts. This overall makes more children pay attention and therefore grades suddenly become higher.
Time and Engagement:
Another thing that I feel makes going to a STEAM school so utterly unique is that we’re allowed time. Often times in normal schools we’ll only be given at most 2-weeks to complete a major assignment. This has made dealing with projects rather difficult and has made many people very bitter toward them. However in the STEAM environment we’re allowed to have more time to work on assignments. This means we’re allowed to do our best on the assignment and also become far more invested. There is also another variety of family we’re allowed to have, free time. I forgot to mention that at around 12:00 every day (during humanities) I eat lunch. Then after lunch (based off our behavior) we’re allowed outside. I find often times when we are allowed outside, student behavior is better and they play a-lot nicer. I feel this is because we’re trying to better ourselves so we can relax. This is a nice balance and one that I enjoy thoroughly.

In conclusion, going to a STEAM school is a very different experience. It has the potential to be much more connecting to both creative and academic types. Not only but because both mind-sets have to interconnect in order to survive in this program, people ending up becoming friends with people they never could have predicted. However there is a keyword in that phrase. That keyword is potential. Just like with anything else in life, this program will only work if it’s in the right hands. This is why I feel very fortunate to go to the STEAM school that I do. However I feel with the right people, any STEAM school can be an amazing one. 

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