Creative Learning in the STREAM Lab
Principal Jim Kyner embraced a creative solution to fill a staff vacancy in the Springs Ranch Elementary School library. Instead of finding a new librarian, the role is now partially filled by Julie Jablonski and the new STREAM Lab.
“The library has always been an active hub at Springs Ranch, with lots of activity and books being checked out,” Kyner said. “We were dabbling in some science maker-space, computers, coding, and things like that.”
At about the same time the school librarian took another position, Jablonski asked about expanding her role as a science teacher.
“We all came up with the same idea independently,” Kyner said. “The idea popped. What if we shifted this position a bit? We created what we now know as the STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering and math) lab. We didn’t want to lose our hub in the library, with the literature, the books, and the excitement the kids have. We wanted to enhance it with the STREAM activities.”
They looked at the possibilities as if this was a blank slate to engage the students while enhancing and aligning with what was being taught in the classrooms.
“We wanted to bring value to our students. To enhance the critical thinking, the engineering process, the scientific process, the creative aspects of STREAM. That actively engages learning in kids,” Kyner said.
The STREAM Lab is a special class like art, music and physical education. Every student comes through the lab at least once a week for 50 minutes.
“I loved teaching fifth grade, but science has always been my passion,” Jablonski said. “I want all children to have access to unique types of learning, and to know even if you’re not good at math, it doesn’t mean you can’t find something successful for you in the future. There are not enough girls going into the STEM field. So hopefully, sparking that interest now, is something they can grasp onto when they go into their future education.”
Jablonski, who was the 2021 Teacher of the Year at SRES, works with the other teachers to find out what they are teaching in the classroom, or topics they can’t get to due time or other constraints.
“I look at what I can do to support their teaching,” she said.
For instance, the third graders are learning about weather in the classroom. In the STREAM lab, students learn about the instruments used to study weather and then use technology to forecast the weather.
Fourth graders learning about earth surfaces in the classroom shook rocks in water to learn about weathering and erosion in the STREAM lab, observing particles of rock breaking off.
“We took what they were learning in the text and put it into a hands-on scenario,” Jablonski said. “STREAM brings everything together. All learning can happen in a fluid way. The students can see what they are doing can apply across different subjects.”
Jablonski has 10 years of teaching experience in the classroom, including five years at SRES.
Kyner said, “She understands the perspective of what the teachers need for the kids to be able to do academically.”
“One thing I saw in the classroom is that we teach very isolated, one subject at a time,” she said. “In the STREAM lab we bring different subjects together. I’m trying to bring more opportunities for the students to transfer their thinking, because that is a high-level skill. It’s a skill that is more realistic in the real world of life.”
“It comes down to creative and critical thinking to broaden what they are learning in the classroom. To deepen their thinking in a creative way, so they might solve a problem in a totally different way than they would in the classroom. I’m reaching children that wouldn’t always be reached in a classroom in that same way,” she said.
From her personal experience as a student, she knows many people are like her, and need hands-on type learning to solidify the lessons in a classroom.
“Children learn differently. Some students need to be challenged because the things in the classroom they grasp pretty quickly. Where in the lab, it might not be something they get quickly. And they don’t like that. So sometimes, it is a partnership between me and that student, or other students. You might not get it yet, but you have to keep trying and pushing through those frustrations. It’s important that they get that challenge here so they can handle similar things when they get to middle school or high school. It’s a safe place to work through the tears, sometimes, and try, try again,” she said.
“On the other side, we have students that struggle academically or behaviorally. We’re doing things in the lab where they can feel successful,” she said. “For some of our younger students, where English isn’t their first language, what we’re doing doesn’t always need language. They can just do it. I’ve seen some really creative thinking from students that I wouldn’t have expected if I would have had them in the classroom. They’re struggling with reading, with math. But look at what they just made.”
There is a simple answer as to why this is working. “It’s totally a different kind of classroom,” Jablonski said.
“You’re still learning, but half the time they don’t know they are,” she said. “The students are so into what they are doing. This is a unique place where they are doing things that don’t happen in the classroom. When there is choice, kids buy into wanting to do it.”
As an example, second graders were able to choose which insect they wanted to learn about, and now they are each making models of their chosen bug.
Kyner and Jablonski are both excited about the future of the STREAM Lab.
“Parents think this is great,” Kyner said. “They tell me their kids love going there. What I see from kids is a lot of team building happening, collaboration happening, and critical thinking happening. It gets loud in here. It’s not playground loud, it’s learning loud.”
Jablonski is already thinking about next year and the possibilities of robotics and sending projects home for families to complete together.
“It’s exciting for me not to be tied to something curriculum-wise, because I get to try new things all the time,” she said. “I’ve always loved my job, but this year it’s been different. I get to have fun with the students. We’re taking learning and applying it to projects. It’s real-world skills. It’s exciting for me to see the students excited about learning in a new way. Their imaginations are so fun to listen to. We’re bringing that imagination back to learning.”
February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This U.N.-designated day aims to accelerate gender equity and improve access to and participation in science for women and girls.
PHOTOS: On this day in the lab the fourth-grade students were taking what they learned and were designing a Google Slideshow with information about weather and erosion in the Grand Canyon.