Woodstock fifth graders take annual trips to the center, which is also open to the broader community. District leaders are also thinking about ways to further expand the center, including possibly creating experiences for older students.
For now, students “work with their classmates in a different environment, have roles and are responsible for the mission being successful,” says Krueger. “We’re trying to promote a lot of problem-solving, collaboration, kids working together; there’s a lot of development in oral language, speaking and analyzing in activities we do — as well as sparking an interest in a career in science.”
The simulated space missions at the center also have real-world applications for students’ postsecondary goals.
“The whole Challenger experience brings all those pieces together and helps kids see how in real life, you use these skills together, not in isolation,” Oslovich says. “Through the problem-solving and critical thinking that goes on, collaborating back and forth, the teachers and Challenger staff who work with them ask questions so they can begin to uncover the correct answers.”
The learning doesn’t end when students leave the center. After visiting the center, teachers have asked about using Airtame adaptors and replicating other aspects of the experience at their schools, Oslovich says.
READ MORE: Find out how virtual reality gives students new ways to learn.
District Invests in More Hands-On STEAM Instruction
Hands-on, immersive learning doesn’t have to happen in a separate, elaborately designed space.
In Ector County Independent School District in Texas, students process materials for paleontologists and researchers. They learn about pushing the raw materials through sieves and identifying fossils, says Jason Osborne, the district’s chief innovation officer. Osborne also partners with area universities, businesses and other organizations to create citizen science (or crowdsourced research) experiences for students in paleontology, bioengineering and other high-level sciences. The district is rolling out a virtual reality solution that enables students to simulate tracing brain tissue, he said. Another VR option creates a safe environment to expose students with limited physical mobility to skills such as auto mechanics.
“We’re trying to enhance students’ natural curiosity and have them do real hands-on learning with real data,” Osborne said. “Even at a very young age, if students have something that they’re naturally curious about, the teachers get excited, students get excited, and the ownership of learning is amplified as well.”
In Arizona, Scottsdale Unified School District is leveraging immersive experiences for a greater emphasis on STEAM instruction.
For the past six years, the 23,000-student district has used the Discovery Education Science Techbook, a platform featuring labs and other multimedia content, to supplement its hands-on science program.
Scottsdale students have access to resources such as step-by-step explanations of math concepts as well as illustrations, videos and descriptions that define vocabulary words in an interactive glossary.
“We wanted to have the technology and interactive online resources along with hands-on activities,” says Barbara Reinert, the district’s K–12 science curriculum academic coach. “If you just put kids in front of a computer, you don’t necessarily get anything other than a lecture. What we know about blended learning is it gives you the biggest growth for student achievement.”
Scottsdale schools already use Chromebooks and other mobile devices in classes. To prepare for the added tech, the district IT team updated campus access points and installed more routers earlier this year, Reinert says
That’s all part of an ongoing effort to find dynamic ways to teach STEAM and put students on paths for future success, she says.
In October, the Scottsdale governing board approved spending $126,000 for a plan that supports a greater STEAM focus at two elementary schools and includes training for teachers. Students will also receive STEAM-focused digital content based on the four C’s — creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking — through Discovery Education’s STEAM Connect K–8 platform.
The new approach will be more inquiry-based, with students asking and answering questions through research, Reinert says.
“The goal is to have STEAM learning infused throughout the day every day — into literacy, math,” she says. “There are so many jobs available right now that involve STEAM. We have to change the skill set kids are leaving school with so they’re able to solve world problems and be part of the global economy.”