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STEAMing ahead

Apr 10, 2018 04:40PM ● Published by Jet Burnham

Third-graders become Jedi Masters of math through technology and ingenuity. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

Arcadia Elementary is steaming ahead with STEAM education for their students. 

“We are doing this very informally through teachers who have incorporated these programs,” said Dr. Cecilia Jabakumer, principal at Arcadia. She said talented teachers have tapped into students’ interests to incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) learning.

Arcadia’s popular Lego League Robotics club provides students with hands-on experience in science, technology, engineering and math. 

Shelly Prettyman and Ross Pope advise the two Lego League teams, but it is a very student-driven program. Students develop teamwork and problem-solving skills, which are honed through trial and error as they design and program robots to complete specific tasks. 

The dedicated students performed well at this year’s competition. At the district level, they were awarded First Place in Robot Performance, Second Place in Robot Design and Second Place Champion’s Award. They were one of the eight teams from the 31 competing that moved on to the state level. At State, they finished in the top half of all teams, which included junior high-aged students.

 In addition to a focus on STEM, Arcadia has also embraced arts education. Jabakumer said incorporating the arts into the curriculum makes it fun for students. 

“It keeps kids wanting to learn and be excited about school,” she said.

Beverly Taylor Sorensen Arts Specialist Maren Holmes, who specializes in theater, develops activities that integrate with common core learning. In March, every class in the school celebrated International Women’s Day with “informances”—informative performances. Students researched famous women such Rosa Parks, Pocahontas, Clara Barton and Sally Ride. They developed a script and a pantomime to highlight key moments in the women’s lives.

“It’s super-enriching for them to get a taste of different artistic activities,” said third-grade teacher Matthew Morse. 

Arcadia partners with community organizations such as Opera by Children, Tanner Dance and Ballet West to provide even more arts experiences for students.

Math is another aspect of STEAM that Arcadia is adapting to encourage excitement about learning.

Third-grade teachers Felicia Walton, Matthew Morse and Kathy Godfrey have changed the way their students learn the challenging third grade math core. Using programs such as Minio and Formative, they have set up mini lessons, practice worksheets and instructive YouTube videos in Google classroom. Students progress through what they call Jedi Math. Each unit is set up like Jedi training where students begin as padawan learners. Units are broken down into concepts and as students master each concept, they progress to the next until they are Jedi Masters, having achieved mastery of the unit.

The competitive nature of the program has been motivating for Angie Winward’s twin boys.

“They are determined to get to the end,” she said. “They are doing it by themselves at home without any push from me.”

Jedi Math also enables students to work at their own pace. Teachers teach a unit and then students complete worksheets on their chromebooks. Students who achieve understanding quickly move on to the next unit, learning from instructional YouTube videos. Students who struggle to progress are pulled into small group instruction with teachers.

“The intent is to make sure the lower kids are mastering those lower levels of math before moving on,” said Walton. “Those kids sometimes get left behind.” She said the higher-level kids can also progress at a pace that’s comfortable for them. Teachers monitor progress in real-time, so when they notice multiple students struggling with a level, one of them will pull that group of students together and re-teach the concept.

Recent math benchmarks have reflected the students’ improved comprehension.

“We have seen exponential growth in testing scores,” said Walton. 

Arcadia’s administration and staff is dedicated to continuing to develop STEAM curriculum as resources are available, even without an official STEAM endorsement.

“There’s no waiting for any ribbon-cutting ceremony; we’re just getting started,” Jabakumer said.   

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