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Roy L. Williams
Trace Crossings EdCamp STEAM
Peter Graff, science instructor at Trace Crossings EdCamp STEAM conference holding robotic quad copter and track rover.
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Roy L. Williams
Trace Crossings EdCamp STEAM
Amanda Stone, vice principal, and Dana Joyner, STEAM facilitator, at Trace Crossings' EdCamp.
At Trace Crossings Elementary School in Hoover, students are encouraged to use their imagination and creativity to foster learning.
On Tuesday, August 4, about 150 teachers from school systems across Alabama and Georgia converged on Trace Crossings as the school hosted Alabama’s first EdCamp STEAM, an all-day conference designed to help encourage students to embrace the arts when teaching traditional STEM classes (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Created by the EdCamp Foundation, EdCamps are free workshops designed and led by teachers and administrators to help teachers become better in the classroom. At Trace Crossings, the EdCamp STEAM facilitators are Amanda Stone, assistant principal, and Dana Joyner. They said the goal of the event is to highlight the importance of the arts in education.
Breakfast for the event was sponsored by Samford University and McDonald's provided lunch for attendees. Stone has spent the past four years as assistant principal and three years as a technology coach at Trace Crossings. She said the school's teachers and students make it a special place to work.
“You can’t find a better faculty and staff anywhere,” Stone said. “Our kids are precious. We have a phenomenal building with learning spaces created to foster their creativity and learning: a maker space science lab, a maker studio, two kids’ kitchens and two computer labs.”
During the workshop, Stone and Joyner led classes in the maker studio, a learning space where students can come in and bring their creations and designs to life.
“It’s an environment set up where kids can play with a purpose,” Stone said. “So many times, kids in the classroom have just desks and chairs with little movement. Here, we foster creativity and brainstorming.”
In another part of the school, teachers gathered at the maker playground, an area where teachers can tinker, play and create with tools and gadgets to help in the classroom.
“The design challenges are set up for Legos, cardboard and other teaching tools,” Stone said. “It allows teachers to experience what their students will learn.”
Peter Graff, an engineering teacher at Saint Francis High School in Atlanta, led a workshop called “Robots Building Robots” at EdCamp STEAM. He told teachers that in his robotics and engineering classes, his philosophy is for students to come up with original robotic designs as opposed to following designs on a box or an image. During the workshop, he showed off original robots his students have built and encouraged them to build their own.
“It encourages them to think creatively and avoid becoming robots building robots,” Graff said. “I try and foster a culture of solution makers, not solution manuals. These rovers the teachers are building are representations of their minds and how they interpreted the projects.”
Graff praised Trace Crossings Elementary for hosting a conference incorporating the arts into traditional STEM education. Arts play a big role in everyday life but have been alienated for too long in education, he said.
“Now more schools are embracing the arts,” Graff said. “Arts is overlaid in every subject - the elegance of writing, the beauty of a 3D design. We cannot continue alienating students who have a musical intelligence or of painting. In my engineering and robotics classes, I emphasize the arts more than anything else.”
Graff encouraged more school systems to follow Hoover's lead and expose students as early as elementary school to real life opportunities to expand their knowledge of science and technology.
“It’s these young, elementary-age kids who are the most creative,” Graff said. “These young artistic minds need room to elaborate and express their feelings in artistic ways.”
Graff said he hopes that the teachers who participated in his Robots Building Robots class at find their own ways to nurture growth in “students who may feel lost in the educational system and inspire them to do better.”
Stone said the EdCamp STEAM event was well-received by attendees, making the months of planning worthwhile.
“It’s a lot of work, but we just like to share,” Stone said. “We want to be able to help kids find their creative side and be an example for other teachers.”