STEAM continuing to build at BCS

A fundraiser by the BCHSA last fall is helping purchase tablets, VR glasses and coding programs for students at BCS to further 21st century learning

In recent years, the new way of thinking for schools across the country has been the introduction of STEAM across younger grade levels, placing an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics in a more hands-on way.

At Berlin Community School, STEAM teacher Michael Ford is making sure students are ahead of the curve when it comes to this way of thinking.

The STEAM lab invites kindergarten through fifth-grade students to the classroom once every two weeks to allow students to work on different problems together using technology and critical thinking skills.

“It’s really designed to create a collaborative learning environment that connects children to the real-world via 21st century skills,” said Ford. “In the STEAM lab, we really try to engage students and connect our STEAM activities to the curriculum standards in the classroom.”

Ford helps to reinforce teaching standards for these grade levels using all sorts of technology while creating a fun environment with students tasked to solve fun problems during their time in the lab.

For example, last week students in Marie Majuri’s third-grade class visited Ford’s room, and were presented with the challenge of building a Popsicle stick fence around a Lego house to protect it from a “Volcano” set to explode via a Gatorade bottle and a chemical reaction using baking soda and liquids.

Students designed their own structures and ways of protecting the house and used a tablet to record how their structures fared against the erupting “volcano.”

Cole Buchinsky pours a liquid into a bottle, used as a volcano, to create a chemical reaction to overflow into the container near the Lego house students constructed during class.

Over the past few months, the STEAM lab has improved its resources and capabilities, adding robotics and coding programs for children as young as in kindergarten. Additionally, Ford is also able to reinforce 21st century science standards to reinforce classroom learning.

“For students ages 5 to 11, they’re really exposed to a more diverse learning environment than we were used to,” Ford said. “Kids are having the opportunity to see what they’re interested in, we’re trying to provide them for an avenue of all ages and abilities to learn in a collaborative environment.”

In Ford’s classes, students will typically work together on problems for approximately 20 minutes under supervision of Ford and other teachers before testing finished projects.

Thanks to the Berlin Community Home and School Association through its Boosterthon fundraiser last fall, which generated approximately $20,000, students who visit the STEAM lab can anticipate additional resources soon.

“Our BCHSA has been fantastic … they continue to help us educators drive instruction in the classroom. They’ve been so beneficial to our staff and community,” Ford said.

Ford says multiple vendors came to BCS to showcase their products to allow faculty to determine what might be most beneficial to all students, leading to the purchase of a class set of Chromebooks, Virtual Reality glasses and robotics coding products, as well as improvements to furniture for the students.

Ford says he expects BCS to receive the equipment in the coming weeks.

“I think the big thing at BCS is that we don’t really stay constant, we kind of want to be the leaders in the area,” Ford said. “We want other schools to visit us and see what we’re doing as an innovative group that continues to push forward.”

Principal Shelley Richards says the STEAM program is very important at BCS and looks forward to the new improvements on the way.

“We really want our children to flourish and grow, and getting them to be creative and kind of thinking outside of the box in very important is very important for 21st century learning skills,” Richards said.

This is only the STEAM room’s second school year at BCS, however enhancing STEAM opportunities and units for students were identified as a goal by the district in its 2017–2020 Strategic Plan with the help of the community.

“The whole community thought it was important,” Richards said. “It was really a big part of our district’s strategic plan.”