Upper St. Clair School District

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Going Full STEAM at Streams!
 
Fourth grade math students at Streams Elementary had an exciting and thought-provoking experienceStrSTEAM recently with … cafeteria tables? It is part of a STEAM initiative to make science, technology, engineering, math and the arts come together in a meaningful way for young learners.  

Principal, Dr. Claire Miller, mentioned in passing that the current tables in the Nutrition Center were in need of replacing.  This got the wheels turning for Enrichment Resource Teacher, Mrs. Mary Quinn, who has been integrating STEAM activities into learning opportunities.  It was a real world problem that she felt certain would be an interesting challenge for the students - can you design a cafeteria table?

Working with Mrs. Anne Glaid, fourth grade Streams teacher, Mrs. Quinn set up interviews with several district employees who had a vested interest in the decision-making process.  These included Dr. Miller, who would order the tables; head custodian Mr. Gregg West, who is responsible for maintaining and moving the tables, and Mr. Steve Mehalik, who had repaired and replaced the wheels on the old tables several times.  Using the Engineering Design Process, small groups of students met with the “experts” to ask questions about an ideal cafeteria table.  Students were then regrouped into teams of three and shared the information they had gleaned from the interviews.

Armed with ideas and information, students measured the cafeteria and current tables, calculated how many students needed to fit and considered various table configurations and limitations.  After producing written plans, student teams created prototypes using only cardboard and tape that met the constraints outlined through their research: tables needed to be mobile, fold easily, and accommodate over 100 students in the cafeteria at a time.

Students then shared their designs with one another, reflecting on what had been challenging and what changes they would make to future designs.
“The project really engaged the students, and got them thinking about what goes into creating everyday objects,” said Mrs. Quinn, who hopes the experiences spurs interest in engineering for young students.  

Other STEAM projects are planned, and enthusiasm is high among the learners.  In the meantime, Streams students are enjoying seeing how the newly arrived tables compare to their own designs.  Twenty-first century thinking isn’t just about technology – Streams students know first hand how innovation, collaboration and problem solving can make even the lowly cafeteria table an exciting learning adventure.

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