Picking Up STEAM With Younger Elementary

One of the biggest perks to working at my former elementary school was that I already knew many people on staff there! This meant that I frequently was volunteering in classrooms, so when I heard that two teachers I knew planned to start a K-1 after-school Engineering Club, I knew I wanted to be a part of it – even before I was on staff.

I started 2015-2016 volunteering in the first grade section of Engineering Club before I even knew the library aide position would be available. I’ve always loved science, but it wasn’t a big part of my elementary curriculum growing up. Because of this, I’m fascinated by early childhood STEM activities, so I asked the leader (a friend of mine) if she would mind if I came to help out.

Engineering Club was a blast…but it was exhausting. Ashleigh and I had 35 VERY talkative and opinionated first grade friends in one classroom at one time, and trying to meet their needs in a fun, hands-on way was definitely a challenge. We quickly learned the value of organization and small groups! Our kiddos engineered elaborate houses to withstand earthquakes, bridges out of scraps, boats that could hold hundreds of pennies, and so much more. Their imagination was amazing to watch, and the way they retained the engineering principles from meeting to meeting was such a testament to the importance of STEM education. We knew we wanted to expand our little club into something more students could benefit from.

By the end of the 2015-2016 school year, I was a full-time staff member at Wilson, so I became part of the leadership team for the club. We decided the 2016-2017 club would serve K-2 students in much smaller numbers – we settled on two groups of 12 per grade level – and we expanded the focus to be on STEAM. Adding art into the mix better reflected what we were already doing, so we changed the name to STEAM Club.

I partnered up with Mrs. Cheek, an experienced kindergarten teacher who let me really take the reigns so that I could get more teaching experience. The three kindergarten leaders co-planned the first semester of club, but they generously let me plan the second semester so that I could really get good practice in writing lesson plans.

I love my kindergarten buddies! We learned about perseverance and engineering design principles…

We helped save the Gingerbread Man…

And right before Christmas, we introduced coding through Kibo, Dash and Dot, and Beebot robots.

Planning and teaching lessons start to finish in this way made me so excited to have my own classroom. I also was able to do a lot of reflecting, and when something didn’t work the way I expected it to, I was able to think through what I did and how I could improve, innovate, or adapt to best meet everyone’s needs. What an incredible experience!

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