STEAM Structures and Organization

By |2021-05-10T07:45:13-07:00May 18th, 2021|

Sparkchasers Episode 36 | Show Notes

Building STEAM Structures and Organization

When it comes to using STEAM in your classroom, it’s important to understand that there are some structures and organization that will make your life a little easier. Now, it’s no hard and fast rules, but we have found that some of these ideas really help when you’re trying to facilitate this process. It’s one thing to write a lesson plan, and to write the assessment, and even know where they go in your curriculum, it’s another thing entirely to try and put it into practice, and have all of these students doing all of these things all at the same time can be a little overwhelming. 

Today, I’d like to share with you some ideas for setting up some structures and systems to help make STEAM go more smoothly for you. These come directly from our Designed to STEAM online course – and it’s definitely one of the most popular offerings we share. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you’ll want to do that if you’re looking for PD hours this summer.

While I’m sharing some of my favorite STEAM structures and systems today, keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules for organizing your curriculum, or your classroom. There’s nothing in there that says that you have to have centers, or that you have to have this particular item in order for it to be a STEAM classroom. You don’t have to have a 3D printer, you don’t have to have Lego robots going on. There are no hard and fast rules as to what you have to have.

What is important though, is that you have consistency. That is truly the key. That however you implement it, whatever structures you put into place, whatever elements you add to your classroom, that you use them consistently. And then I want you to think of your structures and organization as your frame that surrounds your STEAM lessons or units. So this is kind of the borderline area that people don’t cross, right? This is your frame that kind of facilitates this STEAM learning environment. So, let’s dive in.

Student-Led or Student-Fed

All right, so, I want you to think about, as we get started, is your classroom student led, or student fed? Do the students in your classroom take ownership of their learning? Do they really jump in and kind of feel confident in fostering their own learning environment, as well as their own learning process? Or, do you really facilitate that process? Do you kind of dictate where they … what they do, and when they do it, and how they do it? None of us like to admit to doing this, right? Because we know that we should be facilitating rather than lecturing. But, how many of us actually do lecture way more than we should? I’m going to raise my hand. I do it all the time. Even when I’m out consulting with people. It’s a constant struggle for those of us who are educators. So, be very cognizant of that when you’re using STEAM lessons. You really want to think about how you can step out of the picture, and let students lead their own learning.

Using the P3 Principle

One trick to doing that is called the P3 Principle. And I learned this when I was a music teacher. This is part of the Kodaly pedagogy and the main idea is to prepare your students for the information, to present it to them, and then to let them practice it. Now, in the P3 Principle, if we apply it to the STEAM classroom, what that looks like is that you’re giving students lots of different experiences in both the arts area and the STEM content area that you’re going to be using, multiple times before you present the actual key piece for the lesson itself. Okay, so you’re giving them a lot of different experiences. You’re letting them start to put the pieces together in their minds, of “Oh, I did this, and that related over here to this, and I just learned this skill, I wonder if I could use it over here,” getting their wheels turning. Okay?

And then we have the presentation phase. And in the presentation phase, that’s the good ole traditional teaching, that is when we say, “Here is what this idea is. Here is what we’re trying to get you to understand, this particular skill and process.” That should take you no more than five to 10 minutes to explain. I mean, it is … if you’ve done the work, if you’ve let them really prepare and experience the concepts that you’re going to be teaching, all they need is to know what it’s called. All they need is to know, “Oh, that’s what that is.”

Once you present, then you get out of the way again, and you let them practice it. And that’s when you give them the application phase, that’s when they get to take what they’ve learned, and really pull it together. 

Let’s think about this in terms of a lesson and backwards map it.  Let’s imagine we’re doing a lesson that has students photographing nature walks over time, and then looking and comparing that to a Georgia O’Keeffe print. The practice phase is the final piece, right? So for this kind of lesson, I would have students create their own four art prints. But the preparation phase was really including the nature walks, the photography, talking about the photography, looking at the Georgia O’Keeffe examples. When you present certain scientists that look and observe at plants over time, and time causes things to change, and artists do the same thing, that’s your presentation. That’s it. You kind of just pull the two sides together in a nice little bow, and then you step out of the way and let them work and practice it.

STEAM Structures for Lessons

All right, so, here is a suggested structure for delivering your lessons. Now that you know, okay, that’s what it should look like, how do you facilitate that? I like to use what’s called the Studio/Lab Design. So you start with studio time. This is really where you get your practice phase in. So you start with a central question, remember we have our essential question for the big theme, right, or prompt for exploration with tools in the studio. So by that I mean we have our big question that we want to answer. And in the studio time, we give them chances to explore that question in a variety of ways, both in my content area, in my arts area, I might introduce an art strategy here, like perhaps See, Think, Wonder or 10×2.

You could use studio time as an idea generator for collaborative teams, so they’re getting together and they have to come up with an idea. That could happen during studio time. Studio time is a designated time for students to play and experiment, okay? There’s no right or wrong, it happens in the studio, it’s kind of a risk free time, but that anything, even if it flops, it’s no big deal. And you set aside time specifically for that during your unit, or your lesson. So, if you students every day for 45 minutes for math, I might set aside the first 10 minutes of math time and say, “Okay, we’re going to start with studio time,” and really have that set up for them, so that they have time to experiment, and play, and understand those concepts. Because remember, the more you practice, the easier it is to present the idea and let them be able to kind of … or the more you prepare, the easier it is to present the idea and then have them practice.

Once you have studio time, you also can have lab time. Now, this can be back to back, so you could have studio time and then that leads into lab time, or it could be that at a certain point during your lesson you’re going to designate a lab time to occur. Now, lab time is when you use the time that you’ve set aside to turn questions that you’ve gotten from the studio time into transformative solutions. So this is when they’re ready to pull the pieces together and practice, and kind of create their work, that’s lab time. So you can have work stations, you could have centers, you could have a research and development area where students are researching and then creating solutions and trying them out with each other. You could have a presentation space. You can set all of that up for a lab time.

You should have organized areas for equipment or other tools that can happen during lab time. And like I said, you can structure lab time and studio however you’d like. So if you want to do this, if you have that 45 minute math class every day, you might want to do 10 minutes of studio time, you could have 30 minutes of pure instruction, and then you’ve got 35 minutes of lab time, where you take what you’ve learned in instruction, you’ve played with your studio, and you’re using that to create something new at the end of your lesson. You could structure it that way. Or, you could be teaching explicitly on days one and two, and then having them do some studio time on day three, and lab time on day four. There’s no hard and fast rule here, it’s what works for you, and your students, and your current schedule.

But it’s important to understand that students need time that they can experiment with things, and if it fails, it’s okay, they can use that as a learning experience to have a next iteration, a next idea of how to make that better, so that they can apply it during their lab time. They also need the lab time so that they can actually create. There are so many times that I’ve seen people try to do a STEAM lesson that they cut short the creation time, and that should be the bulk of the time that students are using, is being able to pull the ideas together and create something new. So be sure that you set time aside for that.

In the studio, it’s really important to understand what happens in each area. In the studio, students are going to learn technique, they’re engaging in inquiry, they’re taking risks, and they’re problem solving. In the lab, they’re applying their learning, they’re presenting or performing their work, and they’re getting peer feedback. And you can rotate that a lot of different ways. 

Here’s another example. You start with studio time. You select and you teach the specific skills, or process, or techniques that you want students to use, that can happen during studio. Then you transition by providing a specific problem or question and ask students to think about how to use the new studio skills that they just were taught to develop a solution.

Think about that. This shouldn’t take very long, just get the wheels turning, and then move into lab time, where students work alone or with others to merge their ideas with their skills, and techniques, and apply it to the problem or question you have assigned. So this way, you can structure an entire lesson this way if you want. So again, multiple ways to look at studio/lab time, but it is important that you start with process and skill based learning, moving into thinking about a problem that we have that we can use those skills, and then application is through the lab time.

Organization in the STEAM Classroom

Just as important as structure to our classroom and literal implementation structure is important, organization is important as well. So, here’s a couple of organization ideas to kind of keep the mess contained, and allows you to embrace the mess but also keeps it contained in a way that makes it manageable.

Choice Bins

Try providing open access choice bins with problem cards that students can then select to consider possible solutions surrounding your topic. So, you have a topic, you have different problems around that topic, students could pick a problem and then work together to find a solution. If you have open access choice bins, that way it’s always readily available. Try to use recycled materials whenever possible, because number one, they’re cheap. And number two, it really does allow students to create in a way that’s a little less risky. And you never know what they’re going to be able to create. I mean, there is wonderful stuff that is created by cardboard.

Take a look at Caine’s Arcade, go ahead and YouTube that, and you’ll see what I mean. That’s amazing. But when you use recycled materials, keep them in separate bins. So have a bin for paper towel tubes, have a bin for adhesives, have a bin for drawing supplies, Lego bins, etc. So that you can kind of ensure that students have areas that they can place these things in.

Genius Bar

Try setting up a genius bar for students to help each other during genius minutes. So everybody’s a genius at something. I might be really skilled in english language arts, sentence structures, but I’m really terrible at spelling. So when it comes to crafting a really great sentence, I would be able to help somebody with that. But when it comes to spelling, I might need to go and ask somebody else for help. So you have students actually sign up as a genius in their area of expertise for any given topic. And then you can designate five or ten genius minutes for folks so that people can sign up for genius minutes and learn from each other. That’s a great to utilize some of that empty time that we have in our classrooms, in transitions, or when we’re trying to go from one thing to the next thing, try utilizing your genius minutes and having students who are struggling with something go and ask a peer something else, kind of like the Apple’s Genius Bar.

Set Up the Blueprints

Also, one last thing about organization. If at all possible, try to have blueprints available. I like to have a photograph that I call a blueprint of what my room should look like when they leave, at any given area. And I post it in each area. And then before students leave, I ask them to go look at the photograph and make sure that what they’re seeing matches the photograph. That way, it takes the burden off of me for organizing everything, and it puts that ownership back on them. And remember, treating your tools with respect is just as important as actually using the tools. So being able to put those in place is really helpful as well. 

That was a lot of information today, but I’m hopeful that it sparks an idea for your own STEAM classroom. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions about this topic.  Remember, you can use the ask me anything button below to share with me your ideas and what’s bubbling to the surface for you. And if you are enjoying the show and know someone who could benefit from our discussions, please share the podcast with them. Together, we can chase the spark of our ideas and make a brighter future for everyone. I’ll see you soon.

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