Thursday, March 1, 495 youth ranging from elementary through high school-age students will be gathering at the Sonoma County fairgrounds to showcase their hard work and efforts at the annual STEAM Showcase. Among the 20 schools participating are several students from Evergreen Elementary School and Thomas Page Academy from the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District.
At this third annual STEAM showcase, sponsored by Synopsys, students are encouraged to integrate the creativity and critical thinking skills of the arts discipline with the traditional STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math. The event took the place of the long-running county science fair, bringing students creativity and problem solving skills into the next generation of science and related fields.
“A few years ago our office, in conjunction with the county’s Superintendent, started to research on the next generation science standards, where STEM education and STEAM education was headed, and also what was happening in industry,” says Anna Van Dordrecht, Curriculum Coordinator for Science for the Sonoma County Office of Education. “We really felt like this was a way to incorporate more students. It was a good equity tool to make sure that there could be participation from a broad number of students. It was more in-line with how science and anything in the STEAM fields is done right now in terms of collaboration, projects that have purpose behind them and that are integrating more than one area.”
Every year the showcase has a theme that students are required to integrate into their projects. This year’s themes are “Stability and Change” and “Unseen Possibilities.” Besides being scored on their connection to the theme, participants are also evaluated on how they integrated different areas of STEAM, if their project has a purpose beyond showing at the showcase, the documentation of their process, content mastery, and exhibition.
“Exhibition is how they’re displaying their project,” says Van Dordrecht. “There are any number of ways they could do this and that’s one big difference from the science fair. They could do a live performance, a demonstration, a visual display, an interactive display, some kind of 2D or 3D display, or they could combine those. But the main thing is that the student can articulate why they chose to exhibit the way they did.”
Evergreen Elementary in Rohnert Park has participated every year since the STEAM showcase started, and before that, in the Science Olympiad. This year 36 students in grades three through five will be participating, working on projects ranging from geology to insect life cycles to global warming, in groups of two to five students.
“This process is authentic learning in so many ways;” says Lisa Dolkas, 5th grade teacher for Evergreen Elementary, “student choice, time to plan, build and adjust, using outside experts like professors at SSU, folks from local nurseries, etc. Having this great group of innovative thinkers inspires all our teachers to consider the STEAM aspects as they present lessons – we are big here on addressing learning through all of the intelligences, as messy and noisy as it sometimes gets.”
Thomas Page Academy has also participated every year and developed a special STEAM club that meets twice a week after school to inspire students to get involved and help mentor them through the projects. This year the school has 20 students participating on various projects ranging from inventing a robot that would sense conditions leading to a calamity like a fire or earthquake to give homeowners more warning to escape; to building an informational website to educate the public about endangered species and what can be done to help them; to creating tools to help students cope with anxiety and depression.
“We’re here to help guide them if they get stuck on where they’re supposed to go next or what kind of things they could do,” says Jessica Pengel, 7th grade math and science teacher for Thomas Page Academy. “But we really try to stress to them that it’s their project and we want them to be invested in it. We try to encourage them to explore the areas they’re interested in and then from there build on it and really own their project. They’re the ones who are doing it – we just supply the guidance and the classroom and the extra time on which to work on it. But it’s really their ideas and focus on the project.”
The students work on the projects starting in Nov. up through the showcase in March, a few working individually and many in teams.
“We have a passion to explore science topics with these kids,” says Lisa Godleski, 5th grade teacher for Thomas Page Academy. “We were involved in the science county fair before it became STEAM. Doing some things with the kids that’s more open ended and allows them to explore something of interest and support them with it…. It’s fun to be able to mentor students and watch their learning grow.”
Besides displaying their work at the county-wide STEAM showcase, Thomas Page also holds a “STEAM and Literacy Night” on February 26 for students to be able to show their hard work to parents and the community, as the county showcase is not open to the public.
“The STEAM and Literacy Night tends to be a really big event not just for our school but for the whole City of Cotati because families get to come and see what their kids are doing,” says Jeff Johnson, 8th grade teacher for Thomas Page Academy. “We make it a fun, interactive night for our families.”