In September 2015, a group of educators at the Harvard Graduate School of Education came together to discuss the role of STEAM in education. This group—at the time comprised entirely of arts educators—became Harvard’s first-ever STEAM Team, and over the next year, we worked on a series of projects designed to open up a discussion about equalizing the relevance of the Arts in STEAM.
One year later, in September 2016, a new cohort of Master’s students arrived, and a new group of educators met to continue the work of the STEAM Team. This time, however, the group included former math, science, and robotics teachers. It brought in students from the Education Policy and Management, International Education Policy, and Technology in Education cohorts, as well as the Arts in Education cohort. A trans-disciplinary group with diverse interests, we redefined our shared objective. We decided to spend the rest of the year exchanging STEAM knowledge and resources with each other, and acquiring tools to bring with us to the various education contexts we would (re-)enter post-HGSE.
This, after all, is the basic idea behind STEAM: to forge connections and collaborations across fields of knowledge and practice; to learn from each other’s different ways of knowing and doing. Our aim was to learn together, and to take what we learn into our work in education. And, we wanted a chance to play!
Here are some highlights from 2016–17:
STEAM co-Vice Chair Lisa Pastore (HGSE, Ed.M. ’17, Arts in Education) demonstrated a bot-building lesson for elementary school students. The team had fun getting creative, and to our happy surprise, a Harvard staff member’s children wandered in to see what we were up to. They excitedly filled up a bag of supplies to construct their own doodle-bots at home!
In December, the STEAM Team hosted a winter holiday-themed Maker space in HGSE’s Gutman Library. Students and staff dropped by to make light-up greeting cards and laser-cut ornaments, and to unwind from the stress of finals.
In the spring, we met twice-monthly at the fabrication lab in Harvard’s Science Center, where physics guru Rob Hart and chemistry expert Daniel Rosenberg led a series of demos for the team—from building and programming Arduino circuit boards, to laser cutting and ShopBot prototyping, to casting and molding—which we added to our arsenal of STEAM teaching tools.
We were lucky enough to host a group of high school teachers from Beijing, who were traveling to East Coast universities and K–12 schools to learn about how STEAM is executed in U.S. classrooms. STEAM Team members presented examples of their work and joined the teachers for workshops on Harvard’s campus.
In April, Tracy Tang (HGSE, Ed.M. ’17, International Education Policy) organized a two-day China Education Symposium, which included a STEAM Education Panel and a STEAM Maker Space and Exhibition with guests from NuVu Studio, Acera School, MIT Media Lab, and others. The STEAM Team hosted a Maker table at the Exhibition, and talked with participants about STEAM education resources.
As educators, we know that play is an important way through which students learn—but we often don’t get to experience the value of play in our own lives. For the Harvard STEAM Team, our playful approach to learning together allowed us to connect with educators across disciplines, and even across the globe, this academic year. If there’s one lesson we want to be sure to share with students, it is this: that taking time for play, at any age, will always be worthwhile.