Steam proponent Georgette Yakman, founder of STEAM Education, defines STEAM as: Science & Technology, interpreted through Engineering & the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements.

“STEM and STEAM are the new buzz words,” recounted Matt Hannan, Santa Fe Christian Upper School Principal, “and it is something that we have been doing for years. Go beyond the label and focus on a well-rounded education that gets kids to think, to ask questions, to problem-solve using different tools and skill sets.” Handson learning is something that Santa Fe Christian promotes school wide. Matt shares, “In the science class, it’s not about simply understanding ‘the cell does this, photosynthesis is this,’ but it is about how to take that knowledge and put it to use solving the issue of cancer or any other health problem. Our sciences have been pushing kids to ask questions for years, which is awesome because then they’re able to experience that level of rigor and success.”

Throughout SFC’s Lower School, Middle School and Upper School, students are designing, building, calculating and completely engaged in the material as part of their classroom experience. Jonathan Woods, STEAM coordinator, is currently designing two Middle School elective courses. One course is SeaPerch, an exciting, hands-on robotics program; another course is mobile video game design. “I love getting the kids to learn when they don’t know they are learning,” states Jonathan, “They are able to get that real deep comprehension; and that is what is really important.”

Extraordinary opportunities expose students to the sciences. If you were to look into our classrooms, you might find students in preschool learning science properties by making slime, anatomy students learning about muscle groups by performing surgery and middle school students learning about mitochondria by building a gigantic cell. Innovative teaching practices are at work, providing a variety of possibilities for students to discover and explore the sciences.

Mobile video game design is just one of the new courses offered this year at SFC. “I want [the kids] to have fun when learning but not realize it,” Jonathan explains, “ For instance, Angry Birds is a physics-based game. It has trajectory, launch, curve and arch. Kids have so much fun when creating a game like that and they don’t even realize how much math and engineering goes into it!”

When you think of engineering, what comes to mind? Most teenagers may think engineering is overseeing the making of something. However, that paradigm is about to shift. Jonathan Woods created elective courses to introduce kids to principles of engineering. Students have an opportunity to discover what they like to do and in the process, learn. “The courses we offer need to prepare students for the possibility of being in that career field. A lot of students are not prepared to take an engineering leap,” states Jonathan, “We want them to have a stronger base knowledge,understand the different aspects of engineering and discover if they even are interested in the field.” New elective courses are being offered, including Upper School’s Intro to Engineering. In Upper School, there is a robotics team and in the Middle School, an underwater robotics team called SeaPerch. And in Lower School there is Lego robotics. Engineering is more than managing others in building. With new elective options, students are learning that as technology continues to develop, careers in engineering and computer programming are limitless.

“Did you know that everything around you is created by artists and designers?” Middle School art teacher Kailee Blankenship beams with excitement when talking to her art students about the many careers that use an art background. And there are many– creative director, architecture, art appraiser, motion design and set designer are just a few. Mrs. Blankenship, who received her degree in graphic design, is an avid proponent of the ‘A’ portion of STEAM, tying together digital and fine arts. “A lot of what you learn in fine arts correlates to what you learn in digital arts – elements and composition of arts, the rule of thirds, color, how different fonts affect each other,” explains Kaylee. “Art isn’t just painting and drawing, but also designing. And art can be applied to a variety of mediums – a video game, a magazine, or movie making.” Creativity adds life to STEAM.

Santa Fe Christian continues to expand opportunities for students to learn problem-solving skills. There are math clubs at the elementary, middle and high school levels, a Middle School Mathematics Problem-Solving class, an Upper School Advanced Problem-Solving Mathematics class, as well as a competitive math team.

K–12 Collaboration
Sixty-five percent of scientists and STEAM graduate students say they developed their interest in elementary school, according to a study in the March 2010 International Journal of Science Education.

“One of the greatest benefits that we have at SFC, is that we’re all here: Upper School, Middle School and Lower School,” explained Mr. Hannan. He continues, “Yet, we are our own distinct schools. We have our own agendas, and we have to collaborate and work well together. When you look at the entirety of a program, there are building blocks from K–12.” The STEAM building blocks are integrated into each grade level, beginning in the Lower School, moving to Middle School and maturing in Upper School.

Hannah Park, Lower School Principal, adds, “With the addition of schoolwide STEAM coordinator Jonathan Woods, we are able to coordinate our STEAM efforts across the board.” This seamless connection is an advantage to students at SFC.

Todd Deveau, Middle School Principal, continues, “Jonathan’s role is varied – we are looking for curriculum development in terms of integration with our current curriculum, looking for opportunities to bring in more STEAM, and working with teachers to do that.” Mr. Hannan continues, “The connection between schools is an incredible strength and great position because we are able to have conversations that align what we’re doing and where we’re going.”

Looking Ahead
Working with the local San Diego business community is a benefit to our students. Teachers can connect students to career options as well as open the door to future partnerships with business and industry. The best resource is the SFC parent community, many of whom work in STEAM careers. Corporations such as NuVasive and Qualcomm work to engage kids in the STEAM fields.

Partnering with SFC, NuVasive offers a way to engage students in real-life activities. On one particular field-trip guided by NuVasive educators, students installed surgical instrumentation, removed a cartilaginous intervertebral disc and prepared the intervertebral space for the NuVasive interbody implant and installed the spinal device. This field trip exposed students to career opportunities in medicine, the allied health professions and medically related business ventures. Mr. Hannan goes on to explain, “We are a comprehensive high school and work to provide it all. STEAM is not our only focus. In reality, you can be the most brilliant physicist in the world, but if you cannot write a sentence and communicate your ideas well, no one will listen. So we must have kids who are writers, speakers, thinkers and mathematicians.” He continues, “It’s the whole package. At the same time, we want to build kids that have solid Christ-like behavior and problem-solving skill sets and abilities to navigate whatever field they go into. That’s a critical piece.

Building the Future of Education
Today’s students have the benefit of using technology to access new ideas, gain global perspectives and to personalize their learning. A myriad of new technology resources help educators make their classrooms more interactive by connecting students to new ideas, challenges and resources in order to deepen their learning in class.