St. Mary’s is committed to creating transformative educational experiences with creative learning opportunities. Opportunities designed to solve real-world problems, to explore different ideas, and to inspire flexible and persistent problem-solvers. This is at the heart of STEAM.
STEAM is an educational approach connecting the disciplines of science, technology,
engineering, the arts and mathematics. These disciplines serve as access points for learning, guiding student inquiry and promoting creative and critical thinking, the foundation of an International Baccalaureate education.
Each STEAM experience is a rich, meaningful task that begins with a challenge or driving question. How can we create carnival games featuring simple machines? or What polyhedrons make beautiful lanterns? Applying the skills found within each of the disciplines - for example, scientific discovery, artistic creativity, and mathematical reasoning - to their work in an integrated approach allows students to understand learning extends beyond a single classroom, book, or course.
STEAM projects are hands-on and experiential, and the students work through through the IB design cycle to find possible solutions. The IB design cycle structures the inquiry and analysis of these real-world problems. It allows students opportunities to focus on the process of and purpose for their learning, taking thoughtful risks as they develop, create, test, and analyze their solutions. Solutions may take the form of a model, prototype, product or system. Students drive their own learning, considering their responsibilities when making decisions and taking action - core principles of an internationally-minded student.
By giving our students opportunities to find possible solutions to real-world problems through STEAM experiences, we have the power to not only revolutionize what our students learn, but how they view their impact on the world. They see themselves as leaders and innovators. At St. Mary’s, our students don’t have to wait to change the world, they can start today.
“Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” Students in preschool know this phrase well. But how do we make them feel it. How do we motivate them to make responsible choices throughout their lives that will positively impact the planet?
Teachers sent their students on scavenger hunts for debris. They tasked these young explorers to walk the campus and collect every piece of litter that could be swept into storm drains. While the concept of pollution is theoretical, staring at a pile of trash is very visceral. Students immediately understood what this meant for the ocean, the environment, and marine life. They felt called to action.
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Art is the queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” With this motto in mind, St. Mary’s teachers married the arts and sciences, inspiring preschoolers to create an artistic ocean of sea life from the recycled materials. The work was revised several times as the students researched the animals and incorporated their new knowledge into the pieces. It was a tactile lesson in environmental responsibility they won’t soon forget.
What seven year old doesn’t love a carnival? Drawing on their natural enthusiasms, Grade 2 students were given real tools and tasked with building simple machines or, as it turned out, carnival games.
During the “How the World Works” unit of inquiry, Grade 2 students worked with STEAM mentors to design and build the games featuring simple machines. For many students, this was their first experience using tools. “I really liked using a hammer,” said Jeremy Haworth. “I had to be responsible because it was a real tool, not a toy. It made me feel more grown up.”
The games included a frog launcher, a Plinko board, and a golf putting green. “I was so excited on building days,” says Keagan Rollo. “It was the first time we have gotten to build a structure, and we all looked forward to it.” That building culminated in a carnival for students in EEP, giving a practical purpose to all their hard work.
An entrepreneurial spirit is a definite advantage in the 21st century. Identifying every-day problems and working toward practical solutions is a skill that will pay dividends the rest of a student’s life. Grade 4 students were confronted with that challenge. What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? What does a design process look like? How do we market and sell a product once it’s created? “This project was different because we connected science, math, and technology to the unit of inquiry,” says Tylie Fanticola. “It felt real.”
Students first identified a need—from dripping ice-cream cones to lost hair accessories—and then collaborated with teams to create a product designed to tackle the issue. They met with focus groups to elicit feedback, designed prototypes, filmed testimonials, and marketed and sold their concepts through student-created websites. Working with actual entrepreneurs throughout the process enhanced their understanding. “They are real people who actually do what we are trying to do,” says Alma Bayat. “It was cool to think that I could be an entrepreneur one day.”
How many adults know the specific science behind how greenhouses work? Maybe we studied it once in school, but how can we be expected to remember that chapter decades later? The answer—build a greenhouse. Grade 6 students, as part of their final unit on exploring how greenhouses function to control the environment for optimal plant growth, did just that.
Each student identified a question or problem to investigate, developed an experimental procedure designed to answer the question, collected and analyzed data, and formally presented their discoveries to their classmates. They used, for example, the blacktop to study the effects of heat transfer. “Since we had to come up with our own experiment, hypothesis and design for the greenhouse, I was more engaged,” says Austin Strohmeier. “I had to work harder because the knowledge wasn’t just given to me. I had to create it.” That’s how St. Mary’s makes a scientist.
St. Mary’s students never forget they’re part of a greater whole. They understand their actions can make a difference, and they recognize their responsibilities as global citizens. So when their work in pre-algebra made an immediate impact on children in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Tibet this year, Grade 7 students became even more invested.
Connecting mathematics, language and literature, and service learning, pre-algebra students worked in collaborative groups to create “light” for others. Applying their knowledge of mathematical concepts, students designed and created working polyhedron lamps with dowels and tissue paper. The lamps were sold, and proceeds donated, to student-selected global initiatives. The funds provided dental care for children in Cambodia, materials to build homes for orphans in Rwanda, and solar lanterns for those living without electricity in Tibet.
”It was pretty cool that someone wanted to buy something we made in math,” says Aiden Simoes. “It was a hard project, but when we encountered a challenge or got frustrated, we . . . focused on finishing the work because in our hearts we knew the lantern was going to help someone have a better life.”