There’s a buzz in the air inside a typical STEAM classroom. Students collaborate as they are busy working on hands-on demonstrations.
Whether they’re trying to make something “go” or figuring out another way of connecting A to B, the atmosphere in a STEAM classroom is full of activity and engagement.
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. An extension of the STEM curriculum, the difference is that added “A” for art. This approach to learning promotes student inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking.
Now that students are e-learning at home, a collective concern felt by many parents is how they’ll be able to continue that excitement for learning at home.
Memminger Elementary School’s Library Media Specialist, Kristyn Palazzolo, otherwise known as Ms. Pal, decided on day one of the school shut down, that she didn’t want her students to miss out on the excitement of STEAM.
Using her STEAM educational experience, she took to the internet and began creating thoughtful and engaging videos that her students could follow and apply at home.
On her “Ms. Pal STEAM Challenges” YouTube channel, she has been creating STEAM video challenges for her students to follow for over a month now since schools have been closed.
For example, one video challenged her students to create Rube Goldberg machines. Rube Goldberg was well-known for depicting complicated gadgets that performed simple tasks in indirect and convoluted ways. Have you ever seen how Pee Wee Herman gets his breakfast at the beginning of the movie, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure? That’s a Rube Goldberg machine!
And it was a big hit at home for students.
Sarah Phillips has two children at Memminger Elementary—a son in third grade and another son in first grade.
“Our sons’ favorite STEAM project thus far has been the Rube Goldberg challenge. We had a great time tearing the house apart to find the items we needed to build the simple machines that made our Rube Goldberg machine work. And the boys couldn’t wait to share their machine with Ms. Pal,” says Phillips.
Memminger Elementary’s Assistant Principal Stephen Thomas has even participated in the challenges.
“So much of the success that Ms. Pal has had with her e-learning technique goes back to the repertoire she established with the students before the school shut down began,” Thomas says. “She has a relationship with the kids that makes her relatable to them and she does a great job of explaining the projects, which makes them excited.”
Thomas says he was once surprised to see students skip recess to work on STEAM projects with Ms. Pal when school was in session.
“It just really speaks to her and how great she is with the students. They love her,” he says.
Ms. Pal is quick to give credit to her videographer boyfriend, Dries Vandenberg, who films and edits all of her STEAM videos. He also often makes cameo appearances as she brings her projects to life in her home.
“He really makes all my STEAM dreams come true,” she says.
Maureen McAnnar says her son, Beckett Garry, a second-grader at Memminger Elementary, also looks forward to the weekly STEAM challenges.
“Ms. Pal's challenges are a highlight during the week for Beckett. We have had a lot of fun completing each challenge. Outside of her weekly videos, Beckett has been doing a lot of science experiments and learning throughout this time at home.”
Allison Tayloe, a fifth grade teacher at Memminger Elementary conducts a Zoom meeting each day for about an hour where she teaches a live class practicing long division, reading, science and she also makes time to get creative. She has had Ms. Pal pop into some of the Zoom meetings.
“We are still collaborating and I think our unique staff at Memminger has made e-learning a success,” she says.
The Memminger e-learning platform provides an organized resource for parents to peruse for questions about logging into the educational apps, connecting with teachers, reviewing report cards and progress reports and an easy way to access their assignments.
For parents struggling to make homeschooling work, Thomas suggests establishing a routine while e-learning at home. “Just like they have a routine at school, it is important to keep that going at home,” he suggests. “But, we know that parents have had to reset priorities a bit. As important as it is to learn the Battle of Bull Run, for example, it is also important just to go outside and to realize that what we are doing right now by staying at home is helping the greater good by flattening the curve.”
In this time of turbulence, one thing, the students of Memminger can depend on week after week are Ms. Pal’s STEAM videos and challenges.
“I want to make learning fun,” she says. “There are so many ways for the kids to engage in learning at home. Think about how things are made, look at the design, find a different way to make that thing. The arts will get you through this time at home. So many people are creating wonderful pieces. I think it is therapeutic to create something new. It will take your mind off of any stress you are feeling.”
“School is just a building. Lean into that during this time. We are still here for the kids no matter what,” says Thomas.
For more information on Memminger Elementary School, visit www.memminger.ccsdschools.com.