Full STEAM ahead with Grade 10 students

img_3747“A chance to work on an activity required one to use their hands to build physical objects as opposed to writing or typing.”

There certainly was a buzz of excitement and energy around the SEC on Monday and Tuesday as the entire Grade 10 class worked in small groups on a variety of projects embodying STEAM concepts.

What’s STEAM? There’s been a push in many schools to focus on STEM subjects: that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Those are all important areas of study, particularly for our technology-infused world. But it just doesn’t show off human creativity and ingenuity, so if you add in Art you get STEAM.

Sometimes these areas are addressed by schools as separate subjects, with specific courses. Other times they’re worked into special projects or activities. At ICS, we’ve built in some days off-timetable where the regular class rotation doesn’t happen but students can work on other important projects that don’t quite fit into the class structure. Grade 10 students were given the chance to work on different projects integrating different areas of the STEAM subjects, focusing on group work and hands-on learning, while also following the Engineering Design Process.

img_3660“It was a nice break from the regular schedule, and I enjoyed being able to work on the same thing for more than an hour or so in groups but mostly independently from the teachers. I like how we weren’t doing a project for a grade but just to learn and have fun.”

The students formed themselves into groups of four and then chose a project to work on for the two days. There were six choices, covering topics from Biology to Mathematics to Sculpture to Geography. Each project was designed to be an open-ended challenge, requiring the students to investigate and plan, design and build a prototype and test it out. Some groups quickly came up with a solution while others had to go through a number of different versions until they got one that they thought fit their criteria.

“When we had to think as a group and come up with a solution to purify the water, it made us think and it was fun coming up with different ideas and trying to make them work.”

Integrated STEAM Projects:

img_3576Purification of water was one of the projects. Starting with the problem of polluted water which affects communities around the world, the challenge was issued to the students to develop a method for filtering that water to produce clean water which could be drunk. The students had to research water pollution and filtration and purification methods. They experimented with different filters, including sand and charcoal, and tested out the results. They worked on methods of distillation and condensation, learning about how to remove dissolved impurities. They worked with limited resources, being creative with how to accomplish their tasks with simple materials rather than complex manufactured supplies. In the end, the students spoke about their experiences with different prototypes and how they had to adjust their methods after getting unsatisfactory results. This is exactly how engineers work!

img_3730Another project with a water focus was the construction of a Tippy-Tap hand washing station. The students started with the problem of how poor hygiene can spread disease and how easy access to hand-washing stations can improve hygiene. Students investigated the problem and different designs of the tippy-tap station. They came up with different designs that would work locally (with the plan to install one example on the school campus), and found easily-available materials to work with. Each group built a station and tested out their work themselves and by teachers and other students who needed to wash their hands! Problems arose (muddy ground, difficulty in refilling, etc.) and solutions were worked out. In addition to materials and techniques, students found the group planning, building and testing process an interesting and valuable experience.

img_3755A few projects had Art as a key component, including a study of the cuttlefish’s adaptive abilities and a representation of those abilities in 3D artwork. Students learned about cephalopod adaptation through videos (such as this one about the octopus) and looked at the artwork of artist Ryuta Nakajima who uses the cuttlefish as a motif in his work. Students experimented with materials and designs to try to represent a cuttlefish or octopus in terms of its adaptation to its environment. Students discussed different concepts and ideas on how to easily display the fluid nature of cephalopod adaptation in a static artwork, and worked together to create something that was both representative and creative. Students came up with some pretty ingenious work considering their limited time and restricted access to materials!

img_3790Another project which included a clear Art focus was centered around the work of Alexander Calder, using Mathematics to create a balanced mobile artwork. Students discussed forces and balance, looked at Calder’s mobile and stationary work, tried different materials, and worked on ways to balance objects and represent the mathematical and physical concepts at work in the art. One group even developed a battery-powered magnet to test and demonstrate the effect of a consistent force on their mobile.

img_3741croppedStudents who were interested in Mathematics and Geography, chose a project in which they used the technique of an ancient Greek astronomer from Egypt, Eratosthenes, to measure the circumference of the Earth. Students had to research his technique and adapt it to our locale. They also had to get a measurement from another location other than Addis Ababa. Fortunately, we had a willing collaborator from Ghana, Andy Richardson, who got some of his 8th grade students at Lincoln Community School in Accra to take measurements. Using their measurements along with those we got in Addis, our students were able to make reasonably accurate (considering the tools we had available) measurement of the size of the Earth. In the process, our students learned not only concepts and skills related to math, astronomy, and geography, they also learned about accuracy in measurement and how small rounding errors can lead to big differences in real-life calculations.

img_3608Finally, for those students who wanted a more straightforward engineering task, they had a project to build a “robot” basketball player. With our limited time, they had to forego using our programmable mechanical robotics sets – but they were all invited to join in our robotics After-School Activity! Instead, they had limited mechanical equipment with which to build a machine to deliver a ball into a basket. They explored forces, levers, materials and tested out different designs, working towards a machine that was accurate and precise.


All in all, it was a busy and exciting few days. Students enjoyed the change of pace from regular classes and found the projects worthwhile application of academic skills and knowledge to real-life problems.

“I really loved the project and I wish we had a full week of STEAM.”

Cross-posted from my school blog.