I often experience that sensation where the more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn.– Liz Perry, Art Teacher
Possibilities. Collaboration. Discovery. Hands-on learning. These are what fuel the acronym that’s buzzing at Park: STEAM. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. STEAM represents the evolution of the concept of STEM education (that is, STEAM without Art), which recognizes that integrating the arts into STEM allows “educators to expand the benefits of hands-on education and collaboration in a variety of ways, promoting creativity and curiosity at the core.”*
Like the best of acronyms, “STEM” and “STEAM” have taken on metaphorical significance beyond their literal definition, coming to represent aspirations and possibilities. STEM suggests growth, and STEAM takes that growth and puts power behind it. STEAM can take young learners places, igniting curiosity and potential.
This summer, Park will launch the next phase of renovations to create a new Maker Wing and Lower Division STEAM corridor – bright, beautiful, student-centered classrooms that bring science, art, and maker faculty together in ways that will become a catalyst for new discovery, creativity, and collaboration. We connected with the teachers who will call these new spaces their home to find out what excites them about the opportunities ahead.
What Park educators appreciate most about our building and campus says a great deal about the core values of the Park program. As Makerspace educator Elaine Hamilton says, “My favorite place at Park is whatever space I’m in when I’m working with others.” Whether it’s with a student trying a new tool, or a teacher brainstorming ideas, she’s in her favorite space when “in community with those who are wondering, taking risks, and growing.”
Science teacher Beth Hawkins loves the hallways outside the Grade 1 and 2 classrooms. “There is an energy, a freedom, and an air of excitement when I meet a student who has a weekend adventure to share, a treasure from nature, or simply a science question: Are there any salt water amphibians? What kind of rock is this? Can you teach us how a paperclip is made? This weekend we drove over a truss bridge!”
Melinda Huffman, science teacher for Grades 3 and 4, loves “all of the areas in which the outdoors is visible from inside, such as the outcropping of puddingstone in the lobby and the windows which look onto the Larz Anderson Park.”
It’s clear that the new classrooms will expand upon what teachers appreciate, while also providing practical benefits. Woodworking teacher Dean Laabs observes that “Currently, I am a bit of a one man show, working in relative isolation at the end of the hall down on the third floor.” He foresees that the Woodshop’s close proximity to the Makerspace “will undoubtedly foster an opportunity for students and teachers to reimagine what is possible. Successful collaborations and real innovation often happen when folks have a chance to talk and work together.” Further, he notes, “For the past 11 years, I have needed to make the trek from the third floor of the Main Building to the basement of the West Building to use the School’s only table saw, in order to prepare materials for the students.” The redesigned spaces will include a secure equipment and storage room down the hall from the Woodshop, where “grown up” tools can be safely used. Dean says, “It will feel like such a luxury to have the necessary power tools close at hand.”
EXPANDING COLLABORATIVE TEACHING AND LEARNING
Elaine Hamilton couldn’t be more excited about her new neighborhood. It’s all about “Collaboration!” she says. “With the direct connection to the new Woodshop I can only imagine what we will be able to create! It’ll be so phenomenal to be working with students and have that access to even more tools and ways of problem solving in real time. As an educator, I will have so many opportunities to grow and learn even more from my phenomenal colleagues.” Science Department Head Brian Beaver agrees, noting that, “Given that the engineering process is about solving problems, collaboration will allow for multiple perspectives about the types of problems we can work on.”
As an educator, I will have so many opportunities to grow and learn even more from my phenomenal colleagues.– Elaine Hamilton, Makerspace Educator
The new art spaces will provide a designated space for ceramics, with a small annex housing kilns in a way that optimizes proper ventilation, ample space for drying clay projects and a new clay slab roller. Art Department Head Nancy Popper says, “As we ramp up our ceramics program at Park, this renovation will provide much needed space and tools for our expanded curriculum.”
Science teachers are particularly excited by the prospect of purpose-built spaces. Melinda Huffman observes, “The new classrooms are designed specifically to fit the needs of hands-on science teachers and learners; they will have bespoke cabinetry and storage for materials, projects, and works-in-progress,” and she looks forward to having more space for testing ramps, catapults, robots, and more.
Bringing new voices and programs into proximity will inevitably inspire new ways of thinking – both among students and for teachers. Beth Hawkins observes, “The opportunity for my younger students to see what the older students are learning and doing – to see the scope and sequence first hand – is so valuable.” Fifth grade science teacher Meg Armour reflects that she “can imagine having fifth graders practice leadership skills by working with younger science students.” Further, she observes, “In terms of art, there are so many opportunities for students to use their artistic sensibilities to learn about the world and show their learning creatively. For example, I’ve thought about having students create phenological nature journals throughout the school year. It would be amazing to work with the art department to develop skills to draw the detail that they notice through scientific observation.”
SPACES THAT INSPIRE CREATIVE THINKING
Every member of the team looks forward to the benefit of more natural light and visual connection to the outdoors. For Dean Laabs, it’s perhaps most dramatic, as he will move from a closed, windowless box to a space that opens out onto the beautiful Park campus. Dean looks forward to teaching and learning in a space with high ceilings and windows, where students can spill out into the courtyard while sanding and building. “Architecture can have a profound impact on the way we think and feel,” he says. “The new Woodshop will give students and teachers room to think and dream big.”
Art teacher Melody Bartlett observes that “As artists we are constantly examining the natural world around us for reference and inspiration. North light or ‘reflected light’ (indirect light) can highlight intended colors and textures, and produce subtle and controlled value shifts in artwork.” Nancy Popper says, “Looking out over the hill of Larz Anderson Park as the sun streams into the studio on a winter afternoon while making art is just about perfect.”
Looking out over the hill of Larz Anderson Park as the sun streams into the studio on a winter afternoon while making art is just about perfect– Nancy Popper, Art Department Head
The physical environments we inhabit have a tremendous shaping influence on us, and the best spaces – by making us feel honored in their environment –inspire us to rise to our best effort so that we may honor our community in return. As Elaine Hamilton notes, our environment also shapes the way we create community. “As we break down the barriers between the inside and the outside, physically, we are breaking down barriers within the School,” she says. “We are loosening silos among disciplines and grade levels. This is powerful for us to think about for the student experience as well as the educator experience.”
Meg Armour muses on her own educational experience in a way that sheds useful light on our current moment. “When I was applying to college years ago,” she says, “I remember reading that your dorm room location plays a big role in who you socialize with because proximity breeds friendship. I think that is also true in a school building. I love the idea that I will be close to my science colleagues and some new art colleagues. We will be able to see what’s going on in science classrooms of different ages and collaborate and talk about our curriculum in regular ways. I love that feeling when you aren’t exactly sure where to go with a lesson and a spark of inspiration comes from a conversation with a colleague. Science and art together are a dream team. I’m super excited about having the creative influence of art in my science classroom.”
The physical environments we inhabit have a tremendous shaping influence on us, and the best spaces — by making us feel honored in their environment — inspire us to rise to our best effort so that we may honor our community in return.
*Read more about STEAM education: https://www.steamtruck.org/blog/steam-education-history-importance