An enthusiastic group of educators and their supporters gathered at Susan Moore Elementary School last week to celebrate the introduction of one of education’s newest learning concepts: the STEAM (science/technology/engineering/ arts/mathematics) laboratory. The Susan Moore STEAM lab is the second in Blount County, completed at a cost of $175,000. The first opened at Cleveland High School in January. Both labs are intended for use by students in fifth to eighth grades.
“It is vital that our students have opportunities to learn about and explore STEAM careers since it is one of the fastest-growing career areas, second only to health professions,” said Stoney Beavers, assistant superintendent for Blount County Schools.
“We want to open doors for students so that they are prepared to work collaboratively, troubleshoot, problem-solve, be self-directed learners, learn from their mistakes, and communicate effectively. The projects in our STEAM labs foster that type of learning and practice. Students are excited and engaged by this type of learning. The motto in our STEAM labs is ‘learning is different here.’ And it truly is different from the average classroom setting,” Beavers said.
Beavers said the system hopes to install two more STEAM labs in 2019, but that timing is dependent on grant funding and Moving Blount County Forward technology funds. Schools have not been selected and will be chosen through an application process, he said. What the STEAM lab does
“As a learning tool, it allows kids to choose projects they’re interested in, with lots of options to stimulate them. It encourages them to be creative and prepares them to use computer-driven tools to create a specific product (such as a comic book or bridge),” said Susan Moore Elementary School principal Tammy McMinn. She said the laboratory approach also exposes students to subjects and content not included in the traditional curriculum, such as engineering, architecture, and graphic design elements (practical disciplines that can be used to translate ideas into objects).
Other disciplines students can explore include home design, computer coding, media arts, electronic circuitry, computer graphics, music, and 3-D printing.
As a learning concept, the STEAM lab involves using creative cognitive processes – including but not limited to ideation, communication, and collaboration
– then bringing the outcome of that process to fruition using the technical habits and skills of science, engineering, design, and mathematics – often within the context of conceiving and custom-designing a product, or sometimes solving a problem, to meet a specific need.
High-level example: a high school dance student conceives of an electroluminescent costume, using electrical currents to light up the fabric. She creates the costume from sketch to finished product, complete with working circuits, using modeling software and a 3-D printer. (Paraphrased from Future Tense, the Citizen’s Guide to the Future.)
Major contributors to the Susan Moore STEAM lab included Schneider Electric with a contribution of $75,000, and the Appalachian Regional Commission, with a grant of $95,000, $45,000 of which went to construction of the lab, and $50,000 to support STEAM lab after-school activities throughout the county. Schneider Electric is an energy management consultant/contractor working throughout the Blount County system to upgrade infrastructure and energy-using facilities to improve performance, conserve energy, and save money.