Dutchess BOCES’ Salt Point Center implemented a program known as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) last year to encourage students to be inquisitive and inventive when finding the right answers to assignments and tasks.
Teacher Cindy Harkins spearheads the program, which highlights how science is not a separate skill and how the five subjects are intertwined with each other. STEAM Skills tend to be more hands-on and inquiry-based leaving opportunities for all learners to show their different areas of strength throughout the lessons. Fostering curiosity, critical thinking skills and project based learning are very beneficial for students, she said. “You need to have these skills in order to succeed later in life,” Harkins said.
At first, this ‘cluster’ was viewed as more of a lab with fun projects but, Ms. Harkins has tapped into interdisciplinary learning and high interest topics to bring students together in their classroom community to collaborate.
The program emphasizes the process of getting to a solution more than the exact result. If students fail to get the right answer at first, it allows them to keep going until they get it right, Harkins said. “That’s been the fun part of it,” she said. “It’s also enjoyable to see them all of a sudden realize ‘Oh, let’s try this and then let’s try that.’”
“There are many different ways to look at getting an answer and so often students want the reinforcement of getting things correct, we sometimes forget that the process of learning includes taking risks, working together and having to try things more than once,” Salt Point Center Principal Melissa Murphy said.
When the program first started in January 2020, students worked together on projects, which helped with social and emotional development, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made things tricky because items cannot be shared, Harkins said.
“They sort of collaborate on ideas, but they all do their individual work now and that’s where it’s different,” Harkins said. “The older students would rather work as a group.”
Recently, students in Class 131 were learning about animals and the final project involved making animals out of toilet paper rolls by decorating them with colorful paper. Students then wrote sentences about their animals. As an observer, you can see the pride and engagement throughout the period.
Harkins travels the halls of Salt Point Center with her cart, visiting students to work on the projects.
She has been creative during the pandemic, creating a virtual learning lab for remote and visual instruction. “Using items such as apples, water, baking goods and other things, students are learning about topics such as density and oxidation.” Salt Point Center Principal Melissa Murphy said. “I cannot wait to have a bigger budget and the ability to safely have students share materials more collaboratively to build problem-solving skills and trust at SPC.” Murphy continued.