E Learning

STEAM learning through the virtual classroom

Although generally thought to be possible only in the physical classroom where teachers can observe and guide students’ exploration and interaction, STEAM learning is possible with distance learning. How?

First, let’s look at what STEAM is and what makes a great STEAM activity. There are five pillars to STEAM education: science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. The drive to delve into these areas is not new, but it can still be a challenge for many educators who do not feel confident in their abilities to teach these subjects. Fortunately, there are resources that virtually organize an entire unit from start to finish, including teacher guides and materials. But more on that later.

The value of education also highlights the importance of fostering 21st century skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. Today’s students are digital natives: they tend to know a lot more about changing technology than we do, and we need to do everything we can to harness those skills in the classroom. How can STEAM lessons reflect the world students live in?

To make planning less “issue” oriented and more interdisciplinary, here are some tips:

    • Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm! Look at the concepts, skills, and topics you plan to teach. Then, under each one, list all the ideas and questions that can be answered by studying the concept. This can (should) be done with the class so that they are as involved in the planning process as possible.


    • Make connections. Go through the smaller ideas and questions and identify the connections. Group similar and overlapping ideas together and decide how they can be incorporated into a unit/lessons.


    • Identify the possibilities of the pillar. After deciding on a theme, identify the STEAM pillars that can be incorporated. For example, in a social studies unit on Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest, a lesson on canoes might incorporate engineering and technology: build a canoe with a 3D printer and test if the canoe works (it floats, can carry weight, etc. ) .


    • Develop and do the lessons . Develop the lessons, keeping in mind that errors may occur and alternatives may be needed. Be prepared with alternatives if there is a change in resource availability.


    • review and review . After the lesson, reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Think about which parts motivated your students and which parts needed modification or a complete turn in direction. Why? This will help you plan for future lessons and over time you will be able to find the “sweet spot” for student engagement and learning success.


By blending in as much as possible, students will experience learning that meets them at their levels (differentiated instruction is almost guaranteed in any lesson), and can open them up to how relevant STEAM is to life. Of course, there are other ways to get over the “trust” hurdle when planning a STEAM activity: Decide on a STEAM delivery method. Let’s agree that a great STEAM activity is inquiry-based (start with a question, problem, or scenario) and understand the four inquiry-based strategies:

    • structured consultation : A teacher-led experience where the entire class works together through a solution.


    • controlled query : The teacher presents the context, goals, ideas, and tools, and the students lead them forward in the process.


    • guided consultation : The questions and topics are chosen by the teacher and the students establish their own ways of learning the concept and the research activity.


    • Free consultation : Students select the topic, questions, objectives, and research methods, giving them a sense of ownership over the activity and, ultimately, their learning.


Look at that list of strategies as ‘stepping stones’ to empowering students by giving them responsibility for setting and meeting learning goals. Remember, that it takes time and a lot of practice. So start with a structured approach, one that allows students to ask questions, make mistakes, start over, and really understand what a STEAM activity should look and feel like. At some point in the year, if learning is still largely at home, STEAM activities can be done with or without the teacher. Students can schedule virtual meetings with their peers and truly dig into the four C’s of 21st century skills mentioned above.

There are things to remember when planning to facilitate a STEAM-integrated lesson in a virtual classroom. These reminders are no different than those that should be used for any virtual subject class.

Tips for facilitating a STEAM lesson in a virtual classroom

    • Be patient with yourself and with your students. Some things may not go as planned; This is not a new experience. Adapt and move on.


    • Have clear expectations, rules, and procedures in place so students understand what to do and what is required of them for each virtual lesson session. Be consistent to maintain continuity of learning.


    • Incorporate video instructions to customize a lesson and/or set up the next lesson. Try to keep them simple and short. For example, search YouTube for ways teachers have created videos to introduce a concept embedded in STEAM.


    • When you facilitate a virtual session, record it. Please have these recordings available for students who missed a class or those who need review. The recordings can also be edited into shorter parts to introduce lessons on new concepts and skills within the unit.


    • Schedule regular virtual sessions where you primarily serve as a guide as students work in groups through breakout rooms. Jump from room to room, observing the conversation and providing guidance as needed.


    • Have weekly office hours when students and/or parents can seek additional help or ask questions. This will help students develop confidence in their learning, especially as activities become less teacher-directed.


As students gain more confidence in their research skills, they will be motivated to see themselves as scientists, technicians, engineers, artists, and mathematicians. This also means that you have done an amazing job getting them to this point. STEAM is possible, even within the virtual environment of the classroom.

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