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The ART in STEAM!

Meet Christine MacPherson of Hudson Falls NY School District 

How one school integrates Art into the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math Program

Where STEAM Art + Technology = Creativity

Christine MacPherson is the Director of Educational Technologies at Hudson Falls Central School District in Upstate New York. She is tasked with developing programs and projects that integrate technology into the classroom, providing an annual technology plan, as well as providing instructional support to classroom teachers. She also coordinates a STEAM (Science, Technology, Egineering, Art and Math) summer enrichment program for the district, where the benefits of art, design, and structure are closely integrated with what are considered traditional disciplines.

Recently we sat down with her to talk about the success of her STEAM summer enrichment program, and the benefits of introducing STEAM lessons into the classroom.

Q: How did this STEAM Summer Enrichment program get started?

A. Until a few years ago, enrichment programs at Hudson Falls Central School were not occurring in-house at the local level. Students were transported from the school district location to take part in BOCES enrichment programs. These programs were valuable on many levels, but also meant that they were not engaging or participating with their local students or staff.  Students are much more inclined to participate fully in something when engaging with their own staff or with someone with whom they already have an established relationship.

I was approached by the district because of my experience with running a summer enrichment program several years ago. I enjoy developing and coordinating enrichment programs, and I recognized that there may be an opportunity here to create our own program.

Two years ago, the District was able to reallocate the BOCES budget and implemented their own in-house funding program.

With these funds MacPherson was able to offer before and after school program for 120 children.  Continued success over the last several years has resulted in allowing the district to run a 3-week summer enrichment program, serving grades two through eight.

During the summer of 2018, they were able to offer eight courses, all based on STEAM.

Q: What were some of the courses you offered during summer enrichment?

A: One of the courses was called Fairy Tale STEAM. The challenge is to re-create the story using arts as a medium. For instance, they were given five different materials from which they had to create a pully system to reach Rapunzel to free her from the castle. 

We learned about the science of mindfulness and meditation with the 6-8 graders, and the physiology of yoga and what is going on in your body.  They did specific exercises, then tested their responses compared to their resting heart rates, and were able to create graphs of what was happening in their bodies.

Even algorithms require creativity.  Coding with third-graders allows them to see that there is not always just one answer. When they run a robot through something they created it is stimulating and exhilherating.

Q: What were some of the takeaways?

A: Using the STEAM program, kids are able to take risks, experiment and learn from their experience. It even provided an audience for them to present their findings, a skill that may not be available frequently in the regular classroom environment. These types of experiences support competency skills, social, vocal, etc.

Retention was good for the summer 3-week event. particularly with middle school parents..

The kids really enjoyed presenting their projects to parents and their peers.  Kids thrive on competition and problem solving,  and it gave them the opportunity to share what they had done. It gave all of the kids a chance to shine. 

Director of Technology Christine MacPherson with the Hudson Falls School District Technology team.

STEAM In The Classroom

Q. What are some of the benefits of STEAM in the classroom? 

A.: Creativity is a huge part of how we educate our students to be thinkers and grow along with all of the other knowledge and experiences they are getting in the school environment. It is important to provide the structures and safe places for all of them to experiment with  learning new skills.

Things like exploring virtual visits to Mount Everest, the Caribbean, or the Galapagos Islands provides them with an expanded understanding of our world and broadens how they think and want to experience the world.

With creativity the foundation for all of this thinking, students are able to be thoughtful, curious, and understand that there are multiple ways to solve a problem. Even in industries that require complex math skills or business skills, engineering, etc. areas we may think of as analytical,  there is a strong art and creative component that is typically part of the team, where form follows function.

Encouraging these skills allows them to challenge themselves throughout the day. They are allowed to tinker, innovate and develop a growth mindset.

Q. How do you partner technology & STEAM with busy teachers?

A.: Teachers look for assistance with instructional technology to see how they can best make it work in the classroom. There may be concern that there isn’t enough time in an already-full school day to undertake learning new tasks or tools..  

There are three concepts in integrating technology into the classroom:

  • Technology can be in accelerator, but it does not replace good instruction
  • Technology must be done with purpose
  • What’s the why behind why we are learning this

We are not not asking teachers to learn more tools; we are giving them the opportunity to be facilitators, and assisting them in being the lead around the instruction. We ask our teachers to give them the opportunity to showcase, and be the voice in their classroom on a new tool, applying their understanding of new content in a digital way. This is the nexus where teaching and technology start to complement each other.

In the school setting, it is about student agency. Part of our goal is to help teachers understand the continuum; for instance, 1st grade is only about showing students how to take care of a Chromebook and how to just login. The continuum is not just about the traditional classroom environment, but more about providing a setting for building thinkers and problem solvers.

Development Time

Our department begins recruiting in early April to get instructor proposals based on building students up to engage in the four C’s:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking

Part of a successful rollout implementation plan is building in development time. We offer every teacher four days of a boot camp in the summer and would revisit three times during the school year with an additional pull-out day with where they would consult with the teacher ro address issues.

Make sure they have ralready frontloaded, allowing them to be thoughtful about providing professional development. Teachers understand that students learn differently now and this can be a huge incentive for a struggling reader, or it can be a tool to motivate a child that is struggling in other aspects of their school day

Utilizing a grade level approach can also make it more powerful in some ways. For instance we might know that all students are getting a social studies based inquiry project.

 

Q: Have parents been supportive of these programs?

A: They have been very supportive!

Any events or activities we have hosted where we invited parents, such as “geek out days” in the Spring – they came in and supported. Parents get excited when they see how excited their kids are. 

Providing the tools for a STEAM approach that allow the kids to explore, create comic strips, videos and graphic images has opened a whole new world for them. Using Instagram to showcase what the kids are doing allows parents to login and see online digital portfolios of their work, or see their child talking through how they made something.  The ability to connect now with their families outside the school has been instrumental in the success we have had.

 

Q. What is your biggest challenge?

Growing our teachers as leaders and building their confidence around ways that technology can be used.  I don’t want to use technology and STEAM as a substitute for class instruction – I want them to be thinking about how it really redefines the way their kids are learning. I am excited about bringing teachers along the journey and building them as teacher leaders. We want kids to be creating, producing, sharing… not consuming.

Because I have been given the support to grow the technology program and a STEAM program, my hope is that the teachers will also feel supported, so that when they do deviate from the curriculum in a technology sense, they are comfortable that the kids are going deeper or wider in some sense and still experience the same outcome.

Q. Something not many people know about you?

A.: I collect stickers!

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