By Jessica Vaughn Education Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLEY — Robots zoomed around the floor. People played interactive virtual games. Artwork was crafted with the use of robots and computers. Fresh food grew from garden towers.
These were just a handful of activities and lessons shown off by students at Foley Elementary during the school’s first ever STEAM night. The open house allowed parents and friends the chance to check out all the fun, interactive activities students have been learning.
STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. Schools around the country are adopting STEAM lessons to give students the chance to lead the way while they learn through hands-on activities.
Foley Elementary became STEAM certified in May 2021, and teachers and students have been buzzing to show the community what they’ve been working on.
“For both of us, this is like our passion,” said Lisa Tidwell, speaking of herself and fellow teacher Shannon Keenan. Tidwell works as the third - sixth grade STEAM coach at the school, while Keenan teaches kindergarten - second graders STEAM lessons.
“I feel like I come to work and I play and get paid,” Tidwell added. “We tell the kids what they need to do, and at first they’ll say, ‘We can’t,’ and we’ll say, ‘What have you done already, and let’s see what you can do.’”
“It is fully student-led, and we are just the facilitators,” said Keenan. “The students love it, from pre-K all the way through sixth grade. I went to pre-K last week for the first time with some robots, and the teachers were just amazed at how fast the kids took to them.”
Both teachers said STEAM activities teach students to think outside of the box, encourage them to think critically and to work in a team to solve problems. During the STEAM night, the Sphero balls began to malfunction. Instead of shutting the booth down, students were encouraged to speak with parents as they came up, and to problem-solve with onlookers to try and fix the computer issue.
“The students are self-directed, which leads them to being self-directed in their classrooms and in their lives,” said Keenan. “They’re using those 21st century skills, learning them now, carrying them with them.”
Keenan said one of her favorite projects the students have created so far are Sphero paintings, which is art created with coding and robotics. Tidwell said her heart is in robotics. Foley Elementary currently has all three components to VEX Robotics, meaning students begin learning robotics in pre-K and continue throughout their elementary school career. Tidwell said the school has been able to place and compete in two VEX Robotics Competitions in Alabama.
“I love teaching robotics, and I do kind of guide them because I’m more nervous than they are,” said Tidwell. “But I guide them through it and then once we have the robot built, they critique it, and they modify it. It starts out with the same base, and then they modify it and it’s amazing to see what they come up with.”
And the program continues to grow. The school has ordered a greenhouse and is branching out to introduce new STEAM activities to students. A STEAM squad has been created, made up of students ready to problem solve and teach their teachers how to use the new activities when they arrive. Students are working on four garden towers, with exotic seedlings planted and growing. Tidwell said they want to introduce the students to new foods and the practice of growing their own food through the activity.
And despite oncoming bad weather, both teachers were thrilled that the night was a huge success.
“I say we’re like the Hollywood stars of the campus because most every kid on this campus knows who we are,” said Keenan. “They love to come to the lab because they know we’re going to do hands-on robotics, something that’s going to get them engaged, and they have fun.”
“These lessons are preparing them for the workforce, preparing them for the real world,” Tidwell added. “And something we do is if it’s a skill for the second grade, we give it to the first graders, or if it’s a fourth-grade skill, we’re giving it to the third graders. We’re doing it a year in advance because we know they can do it.”