Hello from the shadows!! After posting our blog every single Tuesday, we….ummm- to be honest, we ran out of STEAM (ha,ha).
After taking part in “Full Steam Ahead Friday” for about 26 weeks now, we have made some important observations regarding its success. Additionally, we have also learned a lot about what works and doesn’t.
Having some time off to do some much needed reflecting has proven to be eye-opening. We have come to some definite conclusions about why Full STEAM Ahead Friday and a design thinking approach to learning can succeed or fail. It comes down to one basic fact:
Your classroom culture is everything.
What we,not as teachers,but as people, share with our students, is critical to establishing a classroom that feels like home. When we can create an environment in which our students feel comfortable and loved, that is when students can truly feel good about learning without fear.
How does this happen?
It happens when a teacher brings her heart and soul into the classroom. It happens we laugh with our students, when we make mistakes and giggle about them, when we are silly, when we share photos of our crazy pets :), when we share funny dreams we have had…
It is when we can be in our classrooms and feel like “We are all in this together”, as opposed to, “ I am the teacher and you are the students. You will follow my rules. Now please turn to page 265 in your textbooks.”
Maybe this sounds trite, and maybe it’s obvious to some, but we truly feel that sharing our true hearts with our students is the gold.
By being a part of an environment like this, they learn to feel safe and loved in their pursuit of learning. They become comfortable enough to share parts of their own lives without fear of being judged.
When teachers can bring their passions into their classroom with personality,heart and humor, that is when the culture will speak for itself and there will be opportunities for learning at every corner.
You might be wondering…What does this have to do with STEAM and Design Thinking? The answer? Everything!
The cornerstone of Design Thinking begins with empathy. It requires listening to your user and designing what will ultimately will solve that user’s problem. Instilling a sense of empathy throughout the threads of your classroom is vital. That is why we begin every year in our classrooms with the all important Habit of Mind, “Listening with empathy and understanding”.
After discussing the essential question, “What does listening look like?”, students are paired off and interview each other about their summer experiences and then write three things that their partners did over the summer. They then present each other to the class. This is an amazing beginning of the year experience. This immediately sets up the feeling of empathy and caring. They are not writing and discussing their own summer, but are forced to listen carefully to their classmates to recall details of their new friend’s experiences.It is empowering because students feel that they are truly heard.
Establishing this culture at the beginning of the year is crucial to a successful classroom and also critical when trying to set up STEAM in your classroom. STEAM activities are not for the faint-hearted…
They are messy and loud and more often than not, unpredictable. Teachers must give up the reigns and throw caution to the wind and allow the students the opportunity to experience success as well as failure.The learning that comes from it, though, is so valuable, that STEAM, along with Design Thinking, cannot be overlooked.
From a long blog-break, we come back filled with vision and insight. Our hope is that we can bring the love of what we do into our classrooms.
We hope that each day brings a new opportunity for us to share a piece of ourselves with our students. In the long run, it is the teacher, not the programs,not the technology, not the administration, but the teacher, that matters most.
When we share this piece of ourselves, it is then that our students become family and thus,can feel safe and empowered to reach their highest potential.
Thanks for taking the time to read our thoughts.
Jess and Laura
Teacher wisdom for the day: