A girl and boy building a robot


How to Bring STEAM into Your Community: 10 Organizations Paving the Way

It’s a new year and parents everywhere are reflecting on 2017 and looking ahead. Many of them are wondering if their children have the best educational resources and options available. They’re looking into STEAM-specific schools or evaluating school systems based on their science and technology resources. However, not all school districts across the country have the resources they need and most parents can’t afford to send their children anywhere other than the nearest public school.

This doesn’t mean though that public schools and small communities can’t have thriving STEAM clubs, meetups, events, and organizations. You just need creativity and a passion for learning.

STEAM Education is Lacking in Many Schools

While more parents, teachers, and policymakers are interested in STEAM education, few schools are actually getting the resources they need to improve their lesson plans.

According to Change the Equation, a nonprofit organization aiming to improve STEAM learning opportunities in the US, as recently as 2015, 56 percent of 12th grade students don’t have access to any computer science classes. This number is exacerbated in rural schools and among lower income students, where only 30-35 percent of students attend high schools that offer computer science coursework.

Today’s investment in STEAM education will impact the state of the American economy a decade from now. It’s About Time, a leading provider of STEM curricula, reports that three million technology jobs will go unfilled in 2018 and only 16 percent of high school students are interested in STEM careers.

By the time they reach third grade, one third of boys and girls have lost interest in science. By eighth grade, that number rises to 50 percent. This isn’t unique to America.

Alanna Petroff reports that young girls in Europe become interested in STEM subjects when they turn 11 and then lose interest when they turn 15. It’s not just peer pressure and stereotyping that is keeping girls from the fields; they simply don’t have a lot of role models to emulate and are concerned about workplace inequality. “Six in 10 girls admitted they’d feel more confident pursuing a STEM career if they knew men and women were already equally employed in these fields,” Petroff writes.

Teachers only have a five year window to foster a passion for STEM subjects before interest drops for both genders. Without instilling a love of STEM at an early age and reinforcing it through middle and high school, students can easily lose interest in tech fields and fall behind in their science and math competency.

Teachers Are Scrambling for Resources

One of the main barriers for many teachers is inadequate STEAM funding and training. TES Global surveyed 4,300 American teachers to better understand their relationship with technology. Almost 40 percent said they do research themselves to learn about new forms of technology or reach out to peers to ask how it’s used.

Furthermore, nearly 50 percent of respondents said cost is their primary influencer when choosing edtech solutions for the classroom.

A lack of funding from the state hits all schools, but districts in rural areas can really feel the sting of budget cuts. Woody Woodford, superintendent for the Kellogg School District in Idaho gave an interview with the Shoshone News Press on the state of education funding in his area:

“The cost of educating students in surrounding states, (Oregon, Washington and Montana), [is] approximately $9,500 per student,” Woodford said. “The Kellogg School District receives approximately $6,900 per student.”

While the Idaho state legislature has moved to increase funding over the past few years, there is still a long way to go.

Some Schools Are Coming Up With Creative Solutions

While the picture of STEAM in schools and the future of students in science and engineering fields may seem bleak, there is hope. Many passionate teachers, community organizations, and nonprofits are coming together to create amazing STEM and STEAM activities in their school system.

Each program is different from the next, but they all have a common goal: foster a love of learning and STEAM in students that will last a lifetime. Check out these 10 impressive examples of students experiencing real-world STEAM lessons through education.    

Young students in the classroom

Project Lead the Way Connects Football With STEM

Project Lead the Way develops STEM programs for schools that might not have the knowledge or resources to build them on their own. They recently partnered with Kelvin Beachum of the Pittsburgh Steelers and other NFL players to get student excited about science and technology.

Beachum admits that this program is a ton of fun. As a kid at heart, he gets to hang out and play with drones or race cars.

“It’s fun for kids if you can connect a football player who likes playing with drones to a kid who finds drones fascinating,” he says. “And who’s to say that doesn’t change a kid’s perspective on science or technology? For a player, that’s low-hanging fruit; that’s something we can do pretty easily.”  

Hudson Valley Seed Brings Vegetable Gardens to Schools

Hudson Valley Seed in Beacon, New York brings gardens to local schools and pairs those outdoor activities with reading lessons, math problems, and science instruction. Along with an interest in vegetables and education on healthy eating, students get to see their STEAM lessons come alive in the field literally.

“It’s a classroom as well as a garden,” Ava Bynum, Hudson Valley Seed’s executive director, says. “I love that it’s hands-on kids learn about fresh vegetables and eating while they’re learning math and literacy.”

Students in Cape Cod Create Art With Trash

Nauset Regional Middle School students recently debuted their STEAM Driven Art Show created from materials collected from a local beach cleanup sponsored by Friends of Pleasant Bay. Within 30 minutes, the students collected 3,517 items which they used to create fish and other ocean-themed art.

Many of the students placed plastic and waste materials inside the fish they created, emphasizing the importance of recycling. “If you don’t take it home with you, we’ll take it home with us,” was the theme, as fish are known to confuse pieces of trash with food.

This art show still incorporates science in a non-traditional manner to encourage students to learn about the ocean and recycling while creating something new.  

Young kids plant seeds

Creative Learning Systems Brings STEAM Labs Into Schools

Creative Learning Systems works with elementary, middle, and high schools to develop spaces for STEAM labs. At St. Joseph Catholic School in Libertyville, Illinois, educators knew they needed to introduce STEAM subjects into the curriculum and spent a year researching their best options.

“The STEAM curriculum is based on educating students within the five STEAM disciplines, but it is done so using an interdisciplinary and applied approach,” the Chicago Tribune reports. “Rather than teaching the five disciplines as separate subjects, STEAM integrates them into a comprehensive program that is based on real-world applications.”

Mt. Pleasant STEAM Summit Connects Students with the Community

Mt. Pleasant’s K-12 campus in Columbia, Tennessee hosted a STEAM Summit in April, 2017 and invited former NASA engineers and local science and tech professionals to talk with students and work on projects with them. More than 1,000 students participated and many community participants commented how these students would be future employees 10 years down the road.

There was also a significant focus on the arts, ensuring the A in STEAM was fully represented.

“Elementary school students created abstract visual art using the principles of probability and paint-covered tennis balls and learned the basics of chemistry by sending one another messages in invisible ink,” the Columbia Daily Herald reports.

STEM Night Creates an Open House for Learning

In May, 2017, Blessed Sacrament School in Burlington, North Carolina hosted its third-annual STEM Night, which had more than 20 different booths and activities all designed for students to build an interest in STEAM.

One of the most popular booths included Emmy Award-winning makeup artist Dean Jones (who is from the area) who has worked on films like Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

“We work as artists. We’re also chemists,” Jones says. “We mix chemicals together to make some of these products. These products are made of latex, polyurethane foam, we work in resin, we work in plaster, we make our own blood, so there’s myriad things that we do.”

The Geekbus Brings Makerspaces to Schools That Don’t Have Them

Not all schools can invest in makerspaces or have the budgets to hire instructors to run them. The Geekbus in San Antonio is working to solve that. Since 2014, the Geekbus has traveled to underserved schools around the city providing groups of students with lessons lasting about two hours. The goal is to expose underserved students to a potential career they might not have been aware of.  

Sometimes students are selected based on grade level or class and sometimes students are selected as a reward for good grades. Additionally, the Geekbus is brought in to help the most at-risk students to uncover their strengths and foster an interest in learning.

Change the Play Encourages Girls to Explore STEAM

Jason Teal’s non-profit Change the Play works to foster entrepreneurial development in at-risk and gifted youth. At Maloney High School in Meriden, Connecticut, Teal introduced a STEAM pilot program this year that attracted more than 30 students — when officials only expected a half dozen.

“The goal is to show students careers in sports, music, and entertainment that don’t require being on stage or the playing field, including broadcasters, music producers and engineers, and entertainment lawyers,” My Record Journal reports.

The program was so successful that U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty visited the school to meet the students and talk about the importance of STEAM.

Two young girls at computers

Community Library of Allegheny Valley Creates “Build a Better World”

The Community Library of Allegheny Valley has picked “Build a Better World” for their summer reading theme this year in an effort to keep students reading outside of school while fostering an interest in all STEAM subjects.

Every library branch offers it own programs under the same theme. One has a weekly reading program for kids followed by crafts. Older students can attend a weekly STEAM program where they build robots or work as a team to solve problems.

Remake Learning Encourages Teachers to Share STEAM Ideas

Teachers in the Connellsville Area School District met for a three-day workshop recently to share ideas and learn about equipment so they can better incorporate technology in the classroom. This event was part of Remake Learning Days, a 10-day period with more than 300 events taking place across Pennsylvania and West Virginia to promote STEM education.  

“We’re taking ideas that we can take back to our schools and implement,” Brian Anderson, a Connellsville Area High School fabrication instructor, tells the Herald-Standard. “It doesn’t have to be a brand new idea, just a jumping off point to take an idea that someone else came up with and try to make it your own.”

By meeting together across schools, teachers can share their ideas for learning so every student gets exposed to the best educational methods.

Taken as single events, these community organizations and efforts won’t solve the nationwide funding issues or falling interest in STEAM-related subjects in schools, but they do make a huge impact on students in their communities. And if they can motivate other parents and teachers to host similar events or start like-minded clubs, the impact will be felt and students across the country will benefit.