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Full STEAM ahead: Students learn about science, technology, engineering, art, and math in new classroom spaces

Christina Eck, Pray-Woodman Elementary School STEAM teacher, builds with students.Think of a traditional school classroom like scoops of ice cream: You have your reading scoop, your math scoop, and your social studies scoop. Now, think of science, technology, engineering, art, and math, but instead of scooping them onto an ice cream cone, you throw them into a blender and make a smoothie.

That’s how Pray-Woodman Elementary School STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) teacher Christina Eck describes a STEAM classroom.

“I was surprised at just how eager even the big kids were to come in and explore with materials, take risks, and put play back into their day but with science as the background,” Eck said.

Part of Maize USD 266’s 2019 bond issue involved moving all fifth grade classes from elementary schools to the two new intermediate schools, Maize Intermediate School and Maize South Intermediate School, both of which opened in for the 2021-22 school year. That left a big band room available in each of the district’s five elementary schools to use as something else for kindergarten through fourth grade students — and the plan for a dedicated STEAM space was part of that vision for growth and student opportunity. Community members overwhelmingly supported the plan, with 85.5 percent support from voters.

The Maize Education Foundation provided funding for each of the five elementary school STEAM rooms.

This school year is the first to have a dedicated STEAM teacher in the elementary and intermediate schools in Maize. All the STEAM teachers were previously grade school teachers in the district.

And many of the teachers describe teaching STEAM as their dream job.

Melissa Love, Vermillion Elementary School STEAM teacher, photographs a student's project.“I feel like a superhero walking in the hallways,” said Melissa Love, STEAM teacher at Vermillion Elementary School. “It makes my heart happy to hear that the kids want to come to STEAM.”

Students thrive with hands-on learning experiences, and new research in education talks about the importance of student engagement, said Michael Dome, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Grades Pre-K through 6.

Dome said STEAM is designed so students work in teams. If you walk into a STEAM room, you’ll see 3D printers, Legos, programmable robots, building blocks, balloon-powered cars, drones, and other projects that students can manipulate with their hands.

“Teachers are saying that, for their students, it’s their favorite part of the week,” Dome said.

Students regularly rotate with their class to STEAM much like they rotate to P.E. and music.

In September, some STEAM teachers celebrated International Dot Day with a school-wide art project. Other teachers gave first graders toothpicks and clay, with instructions to build the tallest structure.

The toothpick structures inevitably fall down, and when that happens, Maize Central Elementary School STEAM Teacher Diana Meister said she wants her students to learn an important lesson — how to deal with failure.

Diana Meister, Maize Central Elementary School STEAM teacher, visits with students while they work.“We’re celebrating the little things, like hey, it fell, and you started again,” she said. “Failures are going to happen. They’re a part of life.”

Meister said students will see more benefits from STEAM than just science and math knowledge.

“I think it’s persistence, the teamwork, the collaboration, the determination,” she said. “It develops critical thinking skills when they need to think ahead. It develops their communication skills because they have to communicate with a partner or to a robot about what they want it to do.”

Last year, fourth grade students at Vermillion went to the Maize Career Academy and engaged in STEAM-related activities. Dome said he’d like elementary students to explore the secondary schools again this year.

“Our ultimate goal is our elementary kids getting a lot of experience with those career pathways at a young age,” Dome said. “So they get excited, and they know where they want to go and what classes they want to take when they get there. Maybe it gets them interested in engineering or some other job field.”

Watch for upcoming stories that highlight the district’s STEAM teachers with photos and more information about each teacher. Those teachers are: