An Evening of STEAM
Oak Creek Elementary became a hub of student creativity and innovation March 9 when the school hosted an Evening of STEAM.
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. Each year, the STEAM Fair at Oak Creek is organized and hosted by a core group of parent volunteers. These volunteers lead multiple initiatives to infuse science enrichment and art literacy programs into students' school experience.
In the upcoming school improvement bond proposal, the Lake Oswego School District is highlighting the need to provide technology, curricula and facilities that adequately prepare students for Next Generation Science Standards. NGSS will replace the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills state standardized test in science in 2018.
Oak Creek's event demonstrated the remarkable capability of students to embrace and excel in STEAM when given the necessary resources and encouragement. Larry Zurcher, a STEM Teacher on Special Assignment for the school district, agreed. STEM has a similar focus, but without the art aspect.
"A STEAM night is the perfect catalyst to get students thinking about how science and engineering works," Zurcher said. "Asking a question, predicting what will happen and devising a way to test it integrates multiple content areas in a meaningful way."
More than 125 students participated by showcasing their science, coding or art projects, and the event sprawled throughout the lower level of the school.
As students and families arrived, they discovered the library had been transformed into an art gallery of students' original masterworks. Students had painted portraits of their pets, fashioned a large origami display and painstakingly assembled a mosaic out of tiny squares of tissue paper.
"I was struck by how many parents told me how exciting it was for their child to be able to exhibit his or her art in a gallery-like setting," said Molly Ducker, co-chair of Oak Creek's art literacy program. "I loved seeing the pride in the artists' faces."
Outside the library, attendees chose to either create a glass pendant at a booth hosted by artist Lisa Wilcke or enjoy the Makerspace. One student started a 3-D print on the Makerbot Mini. Parents and students gathered around to watch the 3D printer extrude layer upon minute layer of filament and gradually form an elephant figurine.
Other students enthusiastically dove into the invention corner, engineering boxes and art materials. On the other side of the Makerspace, parent volunteer Kris Damiano showed an excited throng of children how to guide Sphero robots through a series of challenges that ranged from simple to complex.
At tables around the perimeter of the gymnasium, volunteer exhibitors engaged students and parents with hands-on STEAM activities. In the center of the gym, students' science and coding projects were on display.
Exhibitors represented a variety of organizations and exercises, such as Saturday Academy and Tinker Camp, computer reassembly and interactive Earth science. Ana Braghetta of Intel and her family introduced a challenging engineering task. Using only paper, 10 inches of masking tape and a scissor, intrepid contestants built a tower that could hold a heavy textbook for at least 30 seconds.
"We invited them to think as an engineer," Braghetta said. "Which problem do we want to solve?"
Bob Heymann, president of LO Robotics, and Chad Stingle, coach of FLL team 26124 Gorilla Gigabytes, set up a robotics demonstration. Next fall, LO Robotics hopes to expand its program to reach more students and find volunteer coaches for each of the LOSD elementary schools.
The true stars of the evening were the students who displayed their art, science and coding projects. Meticulously rendered display boards ranged in topic from viscous fluids to Coke explosions to DIY cellphones.
This was the first year students could display projects created during weekly Coding Club meetings. Fourth-grader Zachary Fisher demonstrated a video game he created, called "Batman vs. Mr. Freeze."
"Basically, you get to make your own games, choose your own topic," he explained. "Whatever you want it to be about, you can make it."
When asked why she wants to learn about coding, third-grader Yasaswini Sura responded, "because it's so important."
Principal Lillian Sarlos agreed.
"STEAM Fairs allow students the opportunity to showcase their own creativity, curiosity or passion," she said. "Children who invent now may create the scientific breakthroughs we need in the future."