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Makerspace: a dynamic, collaborative work environment
Utilizing a makerspace means more than acknowledging the fact that the same algorithms learned in calculus are occasionally useful in physics, it’s about encouraging students to think of mathematics as a common language that usefully describes natural the world. Countless studies reinforce the notion that the majority of students are turned off by Math at an early age and the aversion becomes difficult to shake overtime. Few students have growth-oriented mindsets toward mathematics; most view it as an innate talent possessed by a rare few rather than as a form of excellence painstakingly acquired by way of trial and error. Math is hard. Developing an elegant, persuasive prose style is difficult too, but sentences are the manner in which virtually all information (musical reviews in addition to dull research papers) are conveyed. Small wonder then that so many students find themselves far more comfortable in majors that require them to absorb and present information in words rather than numbers. Combating these ingrained tendencies requires an immersive approach, the elimination of artificial barriers between the different fields of knowledge and making sure (especially in early, formative years) that teachers emphasize the relevance of math to any and all subjects the students find inspiring. Rather than relegate mathematics to isolated 45-minute segments, in STEAM schools math becomes a lingua franca in which all students feel increasingly at ease.
More than simply making connections between disciplines, however, the biggest impact on student engagement can come from seeing freshly acquired knowledge in action. This is where the engineering portion of the curriculum becomes particularly salient. The ability to translate equations into feats like an actual bridge is awe-inspiring at any age, that the same abstractions can to used to craft functioning robotic equipment generates enduring appreciation for the importance of problem-solving. This kind of early positive experiences with science function in the same way that reading for pleasure functions to create America’s surplus of english majors, it transforms what was once a rote, academic chore into a vehicle for pleasure and achievement. Early and regular exposure to engineering also imparts a skill-set that is more likely to make students prepared to participate in the global economy after college. STEAM schools actively ensure that their students are receiving the relevant instruction by partnering with local businesses to create internship and mentorship programs, showing students the concrete steps necessary to pursue the career path of their choice.
Technology: Why does classroom technology actually make a difference? Contrary to popular belief, using technology in the classroom does not just mean handing out iPads to teenagers; it calls for upending the way classroom time is allocated. Typically, the western classroom has been defined by a single activity: the lecture. The teacher presents the material as students take notes and attempt to absorb it; the experience is not interactive and leaves scant time for teacher interaction. Practice has traditionally been relegated to unstructured homework time when students are often discouraged by the inability to overcome roadblocks that could be cleared up quickly with guidance. Instead, new best practices allow the leaders of academic disciplines to craft up-to-date lectures and put them in videos to watch at home, leaving the teacher spend class time focusing on students’ information retention and practical skill set. 3-D printers have likewise revolutionized the possibilities of project-based instruction, allowing the children essentially to build plastic models of anything their minds can envision. The internet also offers the advantage of near instantaneous feedback, allowing teachers to know efficiently just where the student is going wrong. Using this system, teachers come to retain more time for the student interaction that is the reason so many entered the field in the first place. The need to keep up with technology also encourages teachers to constantly retool their curriculum, reducing the natural temptation to revert to a staid routine, and linking them to best practices developed by their peers around the world.
The latest reformulation of the STEAM movement’s goals came with the addition of the A. Initially, the coalition did not include an added emphasis on artistic instruction and it became readily apparent over time that success in the jobs of the future will require not just the flexibility conferred by a grounding in STEM disciplines, but also the critical thinking and creativity generated by the arts. What distinguished Steve Jobs from major competitors was not his hardware’s efficiency but its aesthetics. Fostering a new generation of coders, designers, and digital artists is clearly as vital as producing a new generation of scientists and engineers. Studying music, drama and literature also develops the empathy, presentation skills, and discipline that any real workplace requires. Finally, harnessing the singular power of art to captivate the imagination allows seemingly recreational pursuits to become a wellspring of enthusiasm for science itself. The would-be professional pianist may not make it to Carnegie Hall, but interest sparked by exposure to the physics of harmony may send her down the path toward other equally illustrious destinations.
Inside the STEAM Classroom
STEAM pedagogy, particularly in primary education, is guided by thematic units rather than compartmentalized subjects and much of classroom time is given over to assisting students with supervised collaborative projects. Time spent receiving information while seated is minimal, instead students are enjoined to learn by doing. The hallmark of a STEAM classroom is often boisterous activity; the students are constantly on their feet. Whether they are recording observations on digital notepads, carrying out experiments, or conducting their own research; the STEAM classroom is committed to upholding academic rigor while rooting out styles of teaching that consign much of classroom time to zestless memorization. At Manor New Tech High-school of Texas, a school singled out by President Obama for demonstrated science excellence, the school-day does not include lectures, textbooks or AP classes. Rather, students are evaluated based on successful completion of 65 projects over the course of the year, each project including a public presentation.