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Engaging Students Through STEAM Projects

Janelle Cox

When students choose what they are going to learn about, they will be more engaged, that is a just a fact.

Coming more on to the scene in today’s schools are projects that allow students a choice. Teachers are giving students a choice and a voice in their own education, and are finding that with choice, comes engagement, real engagement where students will work beyond the classroom.

So, where does choice tie into STEAM? Student choice allows teachers to develop their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) curriculum. The goal is for students to be excited about learning, and when children are excited they are engaged.

When given a choice about what kind of project a student wants to do, they become the “Creator” or the “Maker” of that project. They become driven by their curiosity to create something new that is of interest to them and only them. Students realize that they can be a creator of their work, not just a consumer for someone else’s work. At a time in today’s society where people are asking, “How can we get our students more interested in STEM and STEAM education?”, the answer is to give them a choice on a classroom project that interests them. So, where do you begin? Let’s take a look.

STEAM: Finding the Inspiration

You will first have to pitch your idea to the students. Get them excited about the project and talk about what interests them. You will have to create a good pitch to really get them pumped up about creating a project of their choosing. You can write the caption on the board “Calling all Engineers, We Need Your Help!” If they need a little inspiration then you can have them visit the site Makezine.com, where they can find a ton of creative STEAM-related projects that they can create. Depending upon the students’ age, the kids and family section of the site also has many ideas that are aimed for younger children. Encourage students to come up with a project that speaks to them, and make sure it’s something that they will be passionate to make.

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Getting Creative

Once they have found their inspiration, give them time to complete their projects. Give them a few hours a week to work on it in the classroom, as well as a few weeks outside of the classroom. The more time that you give them, the more creative they should be. Spend some time in the classroom showing them how to get started with their project. First, they should map it out and put their thoughts onto paper. A graphic organizer is always a good starting point to get students’ thoughts out in an organized manner.

Next, students will have to think about where they will get their supplies from. STEAM projects don’t have to be expensive. Students can use their higher-order thinking skills to create a project out of recycled items. It’s important to note that students need to consider the expense when planning out their project. If they do not have the funds, or cannot get the funds then they must consider a project that uses only what they have. Students can ask for donations, borrow supplies, or reach out to their local community.

Showcasing Their Talent

Once students have completed their project, you must find a way for them to show off the fruits of their labor with their peers, parents, and community. There are many ways that you can do this: In the classroom, in an exhibit within the school, or by having an “Invent-a-Thon”-type event where students and parents can come see everyone’s projects. This is an important part of the overall project because it allows students to see their peers work, as well as get the honor that they deserve of their own work.

Getting Feedback

After the STEAM projects are finished, it’s time to get some feedback. Give students a survey to find out what they thought of the overall project; what they liked and disliked, what they would have changed about it, it they had to do it over again, and what they learned from it. This information will help you design another class project in the future. If it went well (which it hopefully did), then students will have taken away the knowledge that they are creators and can do anything that they put their mind to. And, if you are lucky, students will be enamored and excited about STEM projects in the future.

One of the many challenges that you may face as the teacher is to get out of that traditional “Teacher” mindset. STEM education is about thinking outside of the box. It means that you must get out of your comfort zone and allow students to work on their project in their own, unique way. If you are lucky, then more and more of your students will become interested in STEM fields.

How do you incorporate STEM and STEAM education into your classroom? Do you think giving students a choice and a voice help to engage them? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear your opinions.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.