Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead! (Part 1)

Jump on board the S.T.E.A.M. train!

STEAM is a hot topic in education today. Interestingly enough, it is not a curriculum but a national initiative from mathematicians, scientist, engineers, and artist to integrate learning activities based on science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Education Closet defines STEAM as “an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.” This approach to thinking and learning is critical to the future of our students.

STEAM encompasses five components – (Sprouts, 2011)

  • Science – observing, experimenting, predicting, discovering, questioning, and wondering
  • Technology – using tools, being inventive, identifying problems, and making things work
  • Engineering – solving problems, using a variety of materials, designing, creating, and building
  • Art – drawing, coloring, blending, imagining, charting, sketching
  • Math – sequencing, patterning, and exploring

Notice! All of the adjectives listed above are action packed! They are hands-on activities with a twist. STEAM is problem solving in a creative way. STEAM is not an additional class added to your day. STEAM should be integrated into every subject; it is cross-curricular. STEAM shows a student how every topic inter-relates. STEAM time is more than just a science experiment or an art activity or math problem; it is the integration of all the subjects. This approach resembles real life. Real life does not compartmentalize subjects. Life weaves all “subjecyd” together.

There are certain components that make up a STEAM activity –

  • Problem to solve or question to answer
  • Collaboration among students
  • Drawing/sketching ideas
  • A design challenge
  • Communication of findings
  • Reflection of solutions
  • Opportunity to redesign

The components are developing 21st century skills in each student. They learn how to problem solve, collaborate, create, reflect, and redesign. A student is never “done early” because the redesign stage makes them continually ask, “How can I improve this?”

Education Closet describes the end results “are students who take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem-solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process. These are the innovators, educators, leaders, and learners of the 21st century!”

Stay on board as we barrel down the track full STEAM ahead in part 2 when we discuss the design challenge of STEAM.

School Culture Rewired:

How to Define, Assess, and Transform It

“The book is intended to help you better understand the general concept of school culture, learn the strengths and weaknesses of your school culture, and—perhaps most important—influence your school culture or, if necessary, shape a new one,” so write Gruenert and Whitaker in the opening of School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It (2015, p. 3). The authors explain what to do, what to expect, and what things to look out for when trying to improve or change your school’s culture.

Gruenert and Whitaker pose the fundamental question: “Is school culture something we can predict and control, or does it control us? Put another way: Is it the sentry at the door or the monster under the bed?” (p. 17). The book presents strategies for ensuring your school’s culture is healthy and adaptable to change.

Cultural changes are difficult to put into practice because they involve people, and people are not as cooperative as things. The culture of most schools is the status quo. People are satisfied with the way things are, and thus, prefer not to change. Consequently, cultural changes are more difficult to articulate, to implement, and to assess; however, when the administration and teachers collaborate and work together as a team (Amos 3:3), even though some teachers may not fully understand the worth of a change initiative, the change is usually a positive one for the school.

Gruenert and Whitaker’s observation on structural and cultural change is insightful: “The effectiveness of a new culture depends on the strength of the people behind the change and the strength of the pre-existing culture” (p. 4). Emphasizing the importance of teachers in the rewiring of a school’s culture, the authors assert that “when teachers feel they are making a professional contribution to their school, they enjoy their work more” (p. 71).

In conclusion, Gruenert and Whitaker focus on the importance of school leadership in bringing about needed change. Change never happens without a visionary leader, whether in the school or in the classroom. Effective leaders focus on future opportunities and use problems and past failures as stepping stones to future successes.

Reading this book will give insight for how to approach rewiring the culture of your school. Although Gruenert and Whitaker write from a secular perspective, Christian school educators can gain ideas for how to improve our Christian schools and better educate our students for the cause of Christ.

What are some ways you can improve your Christian school?

Resource

Gruenert, S., & Whitaker, T. (2015). School culture rewired: How to define, assess, and transform it. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Copyright Journal for Christian Educators, Fall 2016 edition.  Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Christian Schools.

Counting Sheep

I recently read an article about mounting data that indicates a relationship between attention disorders and sleep problems.  While to this point no causal relationship has been discovered, it is clear that students with attention disorders also have sleep problems.  It is often forgotten that children aged 5-12 need 10-11 hours of sleep.

Educators have long recognized that sleep deprivation negatively affects student performance.  Research shows that students with sleep debt are impaired in many facets, including:

  • Decreased Alertness and Ability to Maintain Focus
  • Extreme moodiness and mood swings
  • Decreased energy and motivation
  • Decreased bodily control & coordination
  • Impulsiveness

 

Are you alert to students with the signs of sleep deprivation?  What can a teacher do to address the problem?  Here are several suggestions that might help.

  • Discuss the problem with parent(s)

Parents may not be aware that sleep debt is adversely affecting classroom performance or attitudes. Ask parents to consider making schedule adjustments so that the child can get more sleep.

  • Teach students (and parents) about healthy sleep habits

While some schools used classroom instruction time to stress healthy habits, often additional instruction is needed.  Often the hardest change for parents to make is limiting screen time.  Experts suggest that children should not engage in screen time—laptops, tablets, phones, etc.—for two hours before bedtime.

  • Warn parents about the negative effects of caffeine
  • Stress the importance of routine—encourage a regular bedtime and bedtime routine that foster a consistent sleep schedule
  • Encourage parents to make sure the child’s room is conducive to sleep

The room should be dark, cool and quiet.  Keep televisions, computers, and any other personal electronics out of the bedroom.  Surveys indicate that many students, even those as low as elementary age, spend hours “on screen” after laying down in bed.

The importance of establishing good sleep habits should not be undersold.  It is vital that young children establish these routines so that their transition into the teen years and then adulthood can be healthy and happy.  Adults with poor sleep habits are usually those that never establish good sleep routines as children and teens.

What other things that you suggest to parents to help a child develop good sleep patterns?

Tips for First-Year Teachers

You’ve gone through four years of content and methods classes, and you’ve survived the gauntlet of student teaching. Congratulations! Now it’s your first year in your own classroom. No matter how good your college’s education program was, nothing quite prepares you for that first year. So, from one teacher to another, here are some tips for your first year of teaching!

You won’t feel comfortable for the first few months—and that’s OK.

In the weeks before the beginning of the school year, you can plan and make decisions about how you’ll run your classroom, but, honestly, until you get into teaching, you won’t have it all figured out. There will be a learning curve, you’ll make mistakes, and that’s ok! Learn from your mistakes. Be flexible. If a strategy or procedure isn’t working, be willing to change it. On the other hand, don’t be too quick to give up—sometimes a strategy just needs time to take effect. Give yourself time to adjust. By October or November you’ll have found your rhythm with teaching the content, scheduling your day, and adjusting to the needs of your classroom.

Don’t overload yourself.

Teachers are busy people. Teaching in itself takes a lot of time, but then there’s the time needed for preparing lessons, attending meetings, decorating your classroom, and so on. Then there are the extracurricular activities—sports, clubs, fund-raising events. While these extras are all good opportunities, your first year of teaching is probably not the best time to get heavily involved. Give yourself that first year to get to know your curriculum, lessons, and grade level.

Keep it simple, but don’t stop improving.

Lessons should be well prepared, and teachers must avoid the temptation to put little or no effort into lesson planning. But, with 30+ lessons a week, you don’t have time to spend two hours on every lesson. (Honestly, your most creative ideas may come to you while you’re teaching! Don’t be afraid to deviate mid-lesson if doing so is best for your students.) Prepare well, but don’t wear yourself out. That being said, don’t get apathetic either. Periodically target subjects or lessons to improve, and be creative! Get manipulatives to make math easier, or research fun crafts to include with history. Read articles and books and get ideas to make your lessons more exciting and effective. And don’t forget—you have access to the knowledge and experience of the teachers around you. So ask questions, get advice, and learn from the veterans.

Have a classroom management plan.

Sadly, many first-year teachers give up on teaching because of classroom management. Plan ahead! Determine what your discipline system is going to be and create procedures to help your classroom run smoothly. Implement discipline and procedures consistently. One key to effective classroom management is to be organized. If you’re scrambling around to find lesson papers or craft materials, your students will get restless or take advantage of your divided attention, so don’t give them that chance!

Do not tolerate irritation towards your students.

The ultimate goal of teaching is discipleship. Your goal should be to influence your students toward Christ. So when you are handling discipline issues, you cannot allow irritation or anger to rule your response. Just as God chastens His children in love, you must discipline your students in love. If you are struggling with wrong feelings or attitudes, repent and seek God’s help to eradicate irritation and anger towards your students. Ask God to help you love the unlovely, and you will be an example of Christlikeness to your students.

The key to being a good teacher is to be intentional. Plan, organize, and step back to evaluate how you’re doing. Your first year may be challenging, but it can also be rewarding. Enjoy the experience of your first year! After all, it only happens once.

Do you have any helpful tips for first year teachers?

Copyright Journal for Christian Educators, Fall 2015 edition.  Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Christian Schools.

Don’t Do That

***Things Effective Teachers Don’t Do

In a world of “Just Do It” and “You Can Do It!” refrains, the word don’t sounds something like a fingernail on a chalkboard.  However, with deep apologies to Nike and Rosie the Riveter, I must contend that there’s much to be gained from stepping back and pondering the opposite side of the coin.

What are some things that effective teachers don’t do?

Effective teachers DON’T . . .

. . . yell.

. . . get their feelings hurt easily.

. . . give busywork just to give a grade.

. . . expect students to read their minds.

. . . speak while anyone else in the room is speaking.

. . . craft “tricky” test questions.

. . . take themselves too seriously.

. . . mind admitting when they are wrong.

. . . assume that students heard what they said.

. . . sit behind their desk.

. . . assign a lot of homework.

. . . huddle with other teachers in the corner of the playground during recess.

. . . leave school at 3:30 every afternoon.

. . . try to teach children as if they were adults.

. . . avoid confrontation.

. . . teach as if every student learns like they do.

. . . care more about what students know than about what students love.

. . . go home without preparing for the next morning.

. . . try to do everything.

. . . ignore a good question because it’s not part of the lesson plan.

. . . lug hours of work home each evening.

. . . overlook teachable moments.

. . . answer all their students’ questions.

. . . take the easy way out.

. . . skip their personal devotions/prayer time because they are “too busy.”

. . . stop learning.

What would you add to this list of things that effective teachers don’t do?