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From STEM to STREAM: Catholic teachers strive to educate the whole person

Schools Article - October 2014
From STEM to STREAM: Catholic teachers strive to educate the whole person

Guest columnist: Teresa Matetich

In August, five teachers from our school and I attended a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) seminar. This seminar was hosted by the Minnesota Independent Schools Forum (MISF) and took place at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

Our day was filled with science and technology and engineering activities. We take back to our classrooms and school dynamic ways to introduce children to STEM in a manner that is age appropriate, challenging, thought-provoking and fun.

STEM Seminar keynote speaker was AnnMarie Thomas, who teaches engineering at the University of St. Thomas and is also director of Playful Learning Lab. Thomas’ unconventional and enthusiastic approach to teaching includes making circuits out of dough, designing toys and studying the physics behind circus arts.

She is a founding executive director of the Maker Education Initiative, whose mission is to “create more opportunities for young people to make, and, by making, build confidence, foster creativity, and spark interest in science, technology, engineering, math, the arts — and learning as a whole.”

STEM plus arts

I was impressed with the approach to STEM learning throughout the day, especially the focus on the integration of STEM with other curriculum areas in the sessions I attended. For me, the acronym moved from STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Participating in activities that integrate smoothly all of these areas was a great experience for us as educators.

Research suggests that helping students make connections among subject areas strengthens learning. In Catholic schools, we are challenged to further integrate the teachings of our religion into the curriculum. That is, our teaching moves from STEAM to STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).

Recently, I attended a webinar that presented information about the Catholic Identity Curriculum Integration. CICI is a collaborative partnership among the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA), Catholic universities, religious congregations and sponsors formed to help teachers and school leaders develop curriculum that is truly Catholic, truly rigorous and integrated into other subject areas. Two different learning experiences this summer for me both pointed in the same direction — integration of curriculum.

One example of how integration could take place flows from a project called “Squishy Circuits.” In this project, homemade dough is used to create a circuit. Depending on the recipe that you use, the light bulb may or may not light up the light. The mixture can be either a conductor of electricity or an insulator — science learning! (It’s fun — try it!)

Teachers can incorporate in this lesson the idea of staying connected to God (the source of our life). With God as our “power source” and by staying connected to each other, we help each other to live “in the light.”

From STEM (the science of circuits and the engineering of this project), to STEAM (in this case, creating people from dough), to STREAM (the project is a visual for children about connecting to God and to each other), the education of the whole child is a dynamic process from which all of our Catholic school children can benefit.

Teresa Matetich is principal of St. Joseph School in Grand Rapids.