The marvelous Amy Koester shared a brimful hour of ideas and information about doing STEAM eight kids in the library. (For those unfamiliar, “STEAM” = Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, & Math)
The first thing Amy said was: everyone can STEAM; no special content expertise is required! After all, all of us have science and art competency greater than or equal to a preschooler.
Next Amy posed and answered the question: Why STEAM in the library? First of all, kids LOVE it, and interest is a powerful motivator for learning. But also, modern literacy is multifaceted- today’s learners don’t just need reading skills- they need the intellectual skills of a STEAM mindset.
Amy took us on a whirlwind tour of how she does each of the elements of STEAM first with preschoolers and then with school-age kids.
In a Preschool Science program: introduce a concept, read a book and talk about it, then offer hands-on activities. Always promote observation, and include relevant vocabulary.
When thinking about technology and preschoolers, remember that “technology = tool.” Tech doesn’t only mean new media and electronic devices! Scissors are developmentally appropriate tech for preschoolers. Amy says we should “use your tools to explore and create,” and always promote joint engagement with caregivers and children and technology. An iPad is a tool like scissors- would you hand your toddlers scissors & walk away?
In preschool engineering activities: Pose a challenge, then provide materials, space, & plenty of time for the children to test and try their ideas. Always encourage comparing & contrasting, & always encourage modifications.
There are endless ways to do Art with preschoolers, but Amy shared some examples of preschool art that incorporates a STEM concept: gravity painting, pattern necklaces, paper chain measuring, & dough sculptures.
For preschool math, it’s important to keep in mind what concepts are developmentally appropriate to the age of the children, and to share math through games and fun activities. It’s also so important to avoid giving kids the message “math is hard.” If they hear this from an important adult, they’ll absorb the idea. Model positive attitude and make math fun!
Work math in everywhere- measure, count, describe shapes.
For School-age science programs, focus on deepening kids’ concept learning with hands-on activities and lots of opportunities to test & observe. Always demonstrate concepts when possible, leave plenty of time for trial & error, and tie into books and other resources
In school-age tech programs: provide the equipment, a little instruction, & just give the kids time & space to create. Always into how the tech works, encourage peer learning, & set aside time for kids to show off their creations to their adults at the end.
For school-age engineering activities, much like for preschoolers: pose a challenge, then provide open-ended materials and let them go for it. Always provide access to resources, encourage testing & modification, & have the kids talk through their creations.
For school-age math, rather than a separate activity, make math an element of a larger activity. One great idea math Amy shared: start an art or engineering activity by giving all the children a set amount of “funny money,” and give all of the available supplies a price- the kids can create anything they want, but they have to add and subtract the costs, maximize their resources, and and stay within their budget.
Amy also shared ideas for STEAM services in the library beyond formal programs:
1. Activity stations- keep it simple, include signage do kids and parents know what it is (and that they’re allowed to play with it), & change them out regularly.
2. Displays- curate these intentionally, be liberal with formats & reading levels, & make it interesting.
3. Publicity- make it easier to find great resources, & be responsive to your community’s interests.
4. Readers’ Advisory- know your collection & your readers, make connections across formats, & encourage kids’ interests.
Amy Koester was so full of great ideas- we went right up to the last second of our time slot and she was talking fast! I can’t wait to get back to my library and try some of these out. I am definitely going to try the “supply budget” with funny money to bring more math into our next open-craft program.