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Full STEAM Ahead for Hillside Elementary School

Hillside Elementary School students work together to save Fred for their STEAM class.It is full STEAM ahead for Hillside Elementary School this year!

As the science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics class enters its fifth year of implementation at Hillside Elementary School, educators said that the program is pulling out all the stops to give students a hands-on educational experience.

Using collaborative, multidisciplinary lessons, students of all grades at Hillside Elementary School learn how to work together, improve their ideas, and communicate their thinking with one another. To start off the year, fourth grade students at Hillside Elementary School were given the opportunity to partner up, think critically, and problem solve.

Students were called upon to save a gummy worm named Fred, who sits atop a capsized boat (a plastic cup) containing a life preserver (a lifesaver candy). It is up to the students to retrieve his life preserver and save Fred from this sticky situation—but they can only use paperclips to move the objects.

“We have to work together to get it right,” said student Levi D. “It’s pretty hard but we got it.”

“We’re trying to get the life preserver over Fred,” said student Colin T. “I like it but it makes me hungry!”

Although the activity was filled with laughs, science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics teacher Robin Farrell, said the lesson gives students the opportunity to work together and think creatively in the classroom.

“I try to create experiences for students that by doing they are also learning,” she said. “We are giving them challenges and as they work with the ideas and concepts, they start to build deeper understandings.”

Although you could expect students in a science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics class to successfully build things and come up with answers, Farrell said the goal of the class is actually to make some mistakes along the way.

“I want our children to be comfortable with taking risks and failing,” she said, “When they first come to STEAM, they can get frustrated or upset when things do not work, but by the time they leave, they love making mistakes because they know they can learn from them.”

Hillside Elementary School students learn to work together to save Fred.Farrell, now in her eighth year of teaching science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics class at Hillside Elementary School, said the class integrates the typical science, technology, and engineering activities with art and literature to make it unique to the school and its students.

“Many schools have STEAM work with pre-packaged programs,” she said. “Hillside’s curriculum is personalized and created just for the students here.”

Farrell began the school year with engaging engineering challenges rooted in shared literature experiences. Collaborating with classroom teachers, Farrell had students read books in class that could then apply to problem-solving activities.

“To be citizens of the world, our children need to be able to think critically, problem solve, and work collaboratively,” she said. “That’s what STEAM allows them to do.”

For Farrell, she said that the class is a great way for students to learn and engage in activities cooperatively by doing what comes naturally to them: build.

“When they are engineering, it is what children do,” she said. “I just get the privilege of giving them names and scientific concepts for what they want to do naturally.”

With all students in-person for this year, Farrell said that she is happy to have everyone back in class for an interactive environment to learn and grow together.

“It is great to be back in the classroom and I’m looking forward to us being together and doing so many more hands-on experiences,” said Farrell. “What makes STEAM so amazing is that students are working in partnerships and small groups and constantly sharing ideas.”

A Hillside Elementary School student poses for the camera as her group tries to save Fred.