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Spotlight on Education: Weston Elementary launches initiative to remove barriers to learning

in News/Schools

WESTON — Weston Elementary School has partnered with Discovery Education on a three-year program that will put the school at the forefront of trans-disciplinary STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Design, Math) instruction, according to Weston Elementary School.

Kindergartners were encouraged to embrace their creative side and use their design and technical skills to construct 3D structures. Photo courtesy Weston Elementary School.

The school hosts bi-weekly Maker Space time in each classroom and students work in small groups to solve a problem. Although the program is just a few months old, teachers have discovered unexpected benefits from the program — inclusivity and empowerment.

“There is no ‘right way’ to complete the challenge,” said Trena Loomans, Weston Elementary assistant principal. “It’s all about exploring, working together, being creative, using skills they’ve learned in the classroom and drawing from their own experiences to figure out a solution.”

Because students have the freedom to ask questions, embrace their natural curiosity and choose how they tackle the problem, teachers have noticed an exceptional level of engagement for all students and, in particular, a level of engagement and collaboration for some students that is quite remarkable.

Students were excited by the opportunity to choose a pumpkin, clean it out and create a pumpkin volcano. Photo courtesy Weston Elementary School.

For example, one limited English language student who struggles with speech and communication has become a leader in the STEAM group exercises. Freed from having to rely primarily on reading and writing to tackle a problem, he has embraced the hands-on activities and is empowered by the ability to design and build solutions with his team. By removing a barrier for this particular student — and allowing him to use another talent he excels in (design and building) — he is able to excel.

As another example, a noted introvert who usually chooses to work independently on projects looks forward to working with her STEAM group because she can use her unique talents in a manner she’s comfortable with and happily make mistakes with her group as part of the learning process.

These open-ended projects are more engaging and, therefore, empowering because students genuinely come to understand the subject matter at hand. Rather than passively listening to a lesson, they become creators who make the lesson come to life.

The challenge? Build a better birdhouse. Photo courtesy Weston Elementary School.

A recent hands on STEAM glacier activity involving clay, ice cubes and dirt gave students the opportunity to create mini landscapes and glaciers and then bear witness to how glaciers formed lakes, rivers and mountains.

Because students are encouraged to try new things, make mistakes and solve the problem in any manner they can, the new STEAM program has given all students the opportunity to succeed. They’ve learned that there is no single (right) solution and that different perspectives and talents all can contribute to a solution.

Fifth-grade students research animals and took on the role of zoo engineer to design and create a habitat in which the species could safely live together. Students used critical thinking and creativity skills to create the habitat either through a 3D online design program or a hands-on bin construction. Photo courtesy Weston Elementary School.

Ultimately, this has empowered teachers as well. As Caitlin Seeley, art instructor, said, “It’s really opened a door for me to think about my lessons in different ways, to make more connections outside of art by incorporating other subjects and to be more playful with the kids. Even if something doesn’t work, we try again and again until it does. We are learning together.”

Submitted by Weston Elementary School.

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