Susan Riley | February 2014

STEAMaker Classroom Ideas

In celebration of this week’s announcement about our summer STEAM conference, we’re discussing STEAMaker classroom ideas. I’d like to share with you a few of my top tips for bringing STEAM to life in your own classroom ideas.  Typically, teachers are nervous about incorporating STEM and the Arts because of the amount of resources or extra work it may take to implement these strategies.  And who needs more work or a reminder of how few resources we already have?  Don’t worry!  These ideas are high-impact, low-prep (as my friend Terry Poisson likes to say) ways to make YOUR classroom ideas a STEAMaker classroom.

It’s all in the Questions

One of the first ways you can build a STEAMaker classroom ideas is by embracing the art of inquiry.  Don’t just let your students ask questions – encourage it.  Make questioning a ritual in your classroom.  Never settle for the first answer your students give.  Instead, ask questions like “what makes you say that?” or “how do you know” or “what if…” to really probe student thinking.  Once you model it, students will begin embedding these questioning tactics into their own conversations and learning experiences.

Why is questioning important in a STEAM classroom ideas?  Because inquiry drives curiosity, which is what causes our students to want to explore a content more deeply.  By encouraging and valuing questions, students are more willing to take risks to find out what happens next in the story…or problem…or artwork.

Genius Minutes

Another strategy that pivots from the inquiry tactic are what I call Genius Minutes.  I’ve seen a variation of this used in math classes (referred to as Challenge Math) with awesome results. This is a block of 10-15 minutes that you set aside for students to work on solving a real-world problem or issue.  This may come from a news article (newsELA is a great source for this), a composition, a piece of art, or a current product release.  The point is that you find something that requires some investigation and problem-solving and you let your students do the work.  You could give them something that already has an answer that they need to work through, or you could give them something that may not have a solution.

The options here are endless.  However, the benefits are fantastic.  For those 10-15 minutes, students may only rely on each other or informational sources to puzzle out the problem.  They cannot ask you any questions, though you may come around and ask them some if you wish.  At first, students struggle because it’s uncomfortable.  But then, pure genius begins to spark.  Just by providing students with some time and the ability to collaborate with their peers, they begin to synthesize, analyze and create new solutions we might never have seen before.

Thinker Toys

Sometimes, it’s all about play.  One of the greatest ways to encourage STEAM-thinking in your classroom ideas is by providing a Thinker Toychest.  These are old toys, materials, or supplies that have been laying around collecting dust that students can use to create models or designs for their own thinking.  It’s great for a couple of reasons.  First, it allows you to recycle and repurpose items that would normally have been thrown away.  Second, by allowing your students to use these materials to work through their ideas, you’re making their thinking visible.  You can actually see the process of a solution in their mind.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

These 3 strategies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating a classroom environment that is conducive to STEAM exploration.  Give them a try to see what exciting and new creations your students will come up with!

 Psst… these ideas?  Visit our new STEAMportal for more great articles, resources, and discussion areas on topics just like this!

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan