Full ‘STEAM’ ahead in Oregon

Collaborative program integrates key subjects
Scott De Laruelle

Photos by Scott De Laruelle. Teacher Erik Haackenson explains students’ battle robots.

Last month’s STEAM open house at Oregon High School was well-attended by community members, some of whom got a chance to try out students’ “battle robots.”

OHS teacher Ryan Stace kept busy during the STEAM open house explaining the equipment students use in classes.

Science, technology, engineering, art and math are some of the most critical subjects for young students to master.

Integrating them all into classroom learning is the idea behind the Oregon School District’s STEAM initiative, one that is sweeping across schools in the U.S. For the past three years, district director of instruction and student achievement Anita Koehler has worked with district science teachers in evaluating new achievement standards, and how they relate to an integrated STEAM curriculum.

Last spring, she was contacted by Oregon Rotary about ways the group could continue its involvement with service projects for students, and in particular help to build a stronger STEAM program in the district. Coordinating with Rotarian Greg Granberg, also the OHS school-to-work coordinator, they developed an Oregon Advisory Committee to begin the discussion of how to move forward with increasing STEAM activities for K-12 students.  

“We began by looking at all of the great STEAM-related learning that was already happening in our district and determined that we needed to further focus on the integration of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math curriculum,” she said.

In the classroom, science and technology education teachers have successfully co-instructed a principles of engineering course for the past few years. Teachers from all subject areas have been involved in planning, including a field trip for teachers in grades 7-12, school board members, administrators and community members to visit other districts with strong STEAM programs, with plans for a similar visit for K-6 staff in the near future.

Real-world motivation

This summer, K-5 teachers will attend training for an elementary STEAM program, “Engineering is Elementary.” It focuses on project-based activities that require a “solid knowledge base, higher level thinking and problem-solving skills, and connections with science-related careers.”

Once trained, the group of teachers and administrators will explore this curriculum and make recommendations for changes to the district’s K-5 science curriculum.

“Research shows that students who understand the purpose and real-world application of their learning are more motivated to learn,” Koehler said. “The more we can engage students in project-based, higher level thinking and problem-solving activities, the better prepared they will be for their future. It is our goal to expand these learning opportunities PK-12 across our district.”

Oregon High School offers three agriculture courses that provide students with high school science credit. OHS principal Kelly Meyers said STEAM fits well into the district’s ongoing efforts to “provide students with educational opportunities to secure experiences for what we know to be the an increasing area of employment for future jobs and careers.”

Meyers said some classes are “cross-walked,” where students can get credit beyond electives for taking courses, like principles of engineering.

STEAM education is no fad, either. Last May, Oregon School Board members determined the program was one of their top five priorities for the district.

Board member Rae Vogeler, part of the district’s STEAM task force, has often met with teachers to find out more about the integrated approach and came away “very impressed,” noting that they had even drawn up an architectural STEAM plan for their school to include in a possible future referendum.

“They are passionate about this integrated approach to learning and are providing excellent education for our students,” she told the Observer.

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