Growing Youth Curiosity and Self-Confidence in STEAM with Gique
By Danielle Olson (Founder & President), Ashli Davis-Polanco (Co-Founder & Executive Director), Phil Getzen (Co-Founder) & Gabby Rabadam, Gique
The current norm in America’s educational system is a highly fragmented school day of disconnected subjects portioned into distinct 50-minute periods, with students shuffling themselves both from classroom to classroom and effectively from topic to topic without any continuity. As Jacobs et al. theorize, this fragmented curriculum structure fails to reflect the interdisciplinary problem solving approach we must employ to address complex issues such as climate change, neurodegenerative diseases, or the growing higher education bubble.
The necessity of integrating the arts and sciences in primary education is corroborated by a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University on honors students who majored in STEM fields from 1990-1995 (LaMore et al, 2013). The researchers found that graduates who owned businesses, were awarded patents, and published articles—indicating inventive individuals—had been exposed to training in the arts during childhood at a rate up to eight times higher than the public.
They theorized that the arts not only supplemented but cultivated more successful STEM students by honing skills such as analogous thinking, imagination, and intuition. All of these skills are necessary for “out-of-the-box thinking,” i.e. the ability to come up with novel solutions.
Intending to develop such thinking, Gique designed a 9-month-long out-of-school time (OST) Science, Technology, Engineering, Art + Design, and Mathematics (STEAM) program, which was piloted with 14 students ages 10-13 at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester from September 2015 to May 2016. In this article, we describe the impact of that program.
First, we briefly describe key components of the research literature which provided a theoretical framework for the ideas and methods covered in Gique’s OST STEAM Program. Next, we propose a methodology for the implementation and assessment of a 9-month-long STEAM education program for middle school students in an OST context. Last, we present and analyze the most significant results from the pilot program study.
INSIGHT & FRAMEWORK
Gique differentiates itself as a nonprofit by supporting diverse learning styles, and by translating technical concepts through creative expressions that empower students to understand, enjoy, and excel in STEAM education. Gique’s diverse leadership and volunteer community is committed to delivering fun, engaging, and culturally responsive experiences through an iterative, interdisciplinary, research-based curriculum design process.
This section summarizes key ideas from research in arts and science education and academic intellectual diversity which guided the strategies for the design and implementation of Gique’s OST STEAM Program curriculum.
Theoretical Framework for Interdisciplinary STEAM
Educators interested in incorporating STEAM into their classrooms believe in the idea that multidisciplinary, project-based learning is an effective tool to not only actively engage students in STEM, but also get them thinking about ways they can positively impact society. It is no secret that scientific, technological, and economic innovations are the current and next generation’s chance for a better world. In fact, the “desired skills for today’s workforce already include the use of interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving, technology, and communications with multiple media tools” – all in addition to STEM content knowledge (Oner et al., 2016). The most impactful way we can prepare the next generation of scientists, engineers, technologists, and artists for the unforeseen demands of the future is by engaging youth in powerful, interdisciplinary educational programs starting in primary school. Fortunately, a new and exciting field of education is emerging where curricula are designed to expose youth to the applications of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) in the real world.
The Benefit of STEAM Programs
“STEAM education cultivates the critical, creative, and participatory dispositions necessary for authentic engagement in both science and art” (Bequette et al., 2012; Catterall, 2013; Radziwill et al., 2015; Zimmerman 2016) along with preparing students to think of ways that they can contribute to society as individuals. In the past, sciences and the arts were conceptualized as two distinct fields – the sciences offered an objective scope of the world while the arts provided a subjective one. However, STEAM learning introduces the belief that the two are complementary, and combining cross-disciplinary techniques powers innovation. As the “future requires creative thinkers who can think in novel ways, an education rich in both science and the arts sets the foundation for the development of such thinkers” (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2011; Zhao, 2012; Gurnon et al., 2013; Root-Bernstein, 2013; Fulton et al. 2016). As the arts have been treated as a “cherry on top” (i.e. supplementary add-on) in recent years, it is important to state the advantages that arts provide to the development of children; which include cognitive & social growth, long term memory improvement, stress reduction, and promotion of creativity (Sousa et al., 2013; Oner et al., 2016). In fact, research findings show that if arts were included in science classes, STEM would be more appealing to students, and exposure to experts in these fields could affect career decisions. (Kang et al., 2013; Keefe et al., 2013; Oner et al., 2016). Due to the advantages of incorporating arts into STEM learning, STEAM
education affords students opportunities to envision themselves pursuing their “dream careers” which they may invent for themselves.
Multiple Intelligences Theory
STEAM programming also supports Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences which has gained a level of notoriety and awareness among educators and innovators since it was brought into the broader educational community. According to Gardner, humans possess nine different intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, and existential. This modalistic perspective implies that students’ learning styles differ based on the strength of each of those intelligences, and that subject matter should be taught through a variety of activities and projects instead of a singular fashion. (Calik et al., 2013; Lunenburg et al., 2014)
The Challenges of Implementing STEAM in Schools
Despite the evident need for STEAM programs nationwide, there are several challenges in implementing STEAM programs in primary schools. Due to the “No Child Left Behind” policies related to reading and math implemented in 2002, nearly half of the nation’s elementary schools have decreased class time in art, drama, history, and science. This change in education policy is detrimental because the lack of access to arts, science, and other disciplines limits the ways that students come to know, understand, and communicate in the classroom (Nelson, 2009). Another challenge arises from within schools, as the current era of standardized tests provides additional pressure on educators to have their students perform well on general linguistic and qualitative exams. This may cause teachers to feel reluctant about developing innovative STEAM curricula, especially curricula that integrates the arts with perceived “high stakes” content. (Donahue et al., 2008, Garvis et al., 2012; Mishook et al., 2006; Oreck, 2004; Wexler, 2014; Zimmerman, 2016). In addition, some novice elementary school teachers are apprehensive about teaching art because they don’t necessarily view themselves as artists (Battersby et al., 2014; Davies, 2010; Oreck, 2004; Russell-Bowie, 2012; Zimmerman, 2016). However, several research studies conducted in the 1990s have shown that Learning Through The Arts (LTTA) schools outperform traditional learning schools in the areas of reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing, geometry, and computation (Smithrim et al. 2005). In fact, an analysis of nationwide data by Catterall, Chapleau and Iwanaga (1999) revealed that students who experience art-integrated curricula score substantially higher in various measures (including math and science) than students without such exposure. In addition, a study of several urban and rural adolescent arts educational programs in various parts of the country found that involvement in the arts “builds and sustains a host of skills and capabilities rooted in their personal recognition of themselves as competent, creative, and productive individuals” (Heath and Roach, 1999, p. 29).
Putting the “A” in STEAM
It is important to note that STEM lessons relying solely on making crafts fall short of the promise and benefits of STEAM education mentioned previously. According to Burnaford et. al., there are three categories that aid in representing various perspectives of art integration: arts integration as learning “through” and “with” the arts, arts integration as a curricular connections process, and arts integration as a collaborative engagement. Authentic integration of the arts requires interactive lesson plans that employ the understanding of critical literacy, multimodal literacy, and transmediation. These three features contribute to the Theory of Change – the use of culturally-situated learning practices, through a system of multi-modal and trans-mediated approaches that are scientifically proven to increase academic performance and social achievement (Zimmerman 2016).
Critical literacy studies refer to literacy teaching approaches that access and explore the cultural variables that play into student literacy learning (e.g. pop culture). (Barton et al., 2000). Multimodal literacy studies are grounded in semiotics, interdisciplinary fields, and how meaning is made through signs of all kinds – not just words (e.g. graffiti, TV, newspapers, etc.) (Siegel, 2006, p. 65). Finally, transmediation is the process of recasting knowledge from one sign system to another (e.g. from a printed text to a dramatized moment) (Suhor, 1984) as a way to enrich understanding through exploration and creation.
Gique’s OST STEAM Program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester implemented from Fall 2015 to Spring 2016 – the program under study – fit well into the three categories of arts integration and effectively engaged students in the areas of science, the arts, and entrepreneurship by utilizing the theoretical framework employed by the Theory of Change in the curriculum.
FOCUS GROUP RESEARCH
Prior to beginning the curriculum design process, Gique performed extensive qualitative research in the form of focus groups. These groups students at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester to assess students’ current exposure to STEAM topics in school, and understand what STEAM topics generated the most youth interest and engagement. The focus group studies were completed with 3 different age groups: 7-9, 10-12, and teens. Following data collection, Gique was fortunate to have STEM experts participate in the curriculum design process, which enabled the adaptation and translation of technically complex concepts to fun, interactive creative arts activities, rooted in the learnings from the student focus group research.The first step was establishing a baseline of what the students already knew and understood across STEAM disciplines, capturing all the ideas that came to the students’ minds when probed to explain what STEAM is all about. Following this, the focus group researchers provided their definition of STEAM with some examples to ensure the group members had a common understanding of terminology.
Next, the researchers sought to understand what students were doing in their STEAM-related classes in school, and if students enjoyed any creative hobbies or extracurricular activities outside of class. They “flipped the script” and explored what the students would propose to do in the classroom if they were tasked to teach the class and why, aiming to identify what teaching and learning methods they found most effective and engaging.
Finally, the researchers focused on students’ attitudes towards their expansion of STEAM knowledge (asking students what kinds of STEAM-related topics they were curious about), how they learn best, what their relationships with younger/older students are like, and what makes learning fun. Finally, students were provided with a handout featuring an extensive list of STEAM topics and asked to rank the topics based on how interested they were in learning about each of them. These questions enabled the team to quickly to pinpoint possible topics of interest to help kickstart curriculum development.
WRITING THE CURRICULUM
Leveraging the learnings described in the above sections, the team began to formulate this research into a curriculum to be implemented during Gique’s 9-month-long pilot program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester. Along with these learnings, there were a few important elements that were instrumental in building an effective curriculum including the influence of global STEM experts, student involvement, and ongoing feedback:
Collaborating with STEAM Experts
Including STEAM experts as part of the curriculum design process – who also had the context of the above learnings – provided a level of insight that is often missing from mainstream education curricula. The ability to translate technical concepts into relatable creative expressions that empowers students to understand, enjoy, and excel in STEAM education is at the core of Gique’s mission. In addition to the authors of this paper, the following individuals played an important role in integrating their real-world expertise into the Gique program curriculum design: Lehla Olson (M.A. Special Education, B.A. Music Education, Literacy Specialist, Teach For America Alumna), Santi Ayu, Joel Figueroa (Education Directors at The Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester), Miguel Salinas (MIT ’16, Brain & Cognitive Science, Past MIT Photography Course TA), Viktor Genel (CEO at MeconoMorph), Wendy Derjue-Holzer (Education Director at Harvard Museums of Science and Culture) , Anastasia Pistofidou (Advanced Manufacturing Officer at FabTextiles), Deren Guler (Founder and Lead Invent-abler at Invent-abling), Leslie Joseph Greene (CEO at The Cool Table Brand), Samuel del Pilar (Founder at Sneakers 4 Success, Product Marketing Manager at adidas), Netia McCray (Founder and CEO at Mbadika), Kevin Wiant (Executive Director at Venture Café Foundation), Faith Dukes (Education Coordinator at MIT Museum), Jess Muise (Member Services Manager at Artisan's Asylum) , Allison Wood (CEO at Reify), and Sarah Hoffman (Managing Director at MMMMAVEN).
Student-Centered Design Process
Additionally, working alongside our volunteers on the ground and adopting a student-centered design process gave us the ability to gain a different perspective than that of other curriculum writers. Gique worked diligently with its volunteer staff to identify where the curriculum may have fallen short in practice to maximize the impact of our program with students through weekly, verbal team debriefs. The program leadership also made it a practice to begin each program session with weekly “roses and thorns,” an activity in which students are given two sticky notes for their feedback on their way into the classroom: one for a positive comment and one for a constructive comment about the previous week’s session. The program leadership reviewed every sticky note as a leadership team following the session each week and discussed how to integrate the feedback into the next week’s session. This practice enabled students to feel heard and provide actionable feedback throughout the program, and enabled Gique to strengthen the impact and coherence of its program experience for future students.
The resulting curriculum places a strong emphasis not only on student exposure to a broad range of STEAM topics, but also on the development of student self-confidence, cooperative learning skills, and application to everyday life.
PILOT PROGRAM DESIGN
Gique’s OST STEAM Program was piloted with 14 student members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester (BGCD), with whom Gique is a proud partner. BGCD serves students from over 150 different schools in the Boston area, providing access to over 200 programs for only $5 a year. Each Fall and Spring semester, BGCD invites families in their community to register their members for Education Programs, which included Gique’s pilot program in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016. All demographics below are self-reported by the parents/guardians of BGCD members:
Of the 4,100 youth served by BGCD annually, 14 members participated in Gique’s OST STEAM pilot program from Fall 2015 to Spring 2016. General demographics of our pilot program cohort are summarized below:
Staff & Volunteers
The following personnel underwent background checks (i.e. National Criminal Background Check, CORI, SORI) and participated in a training program facilitated by Gique and BGCD prior to the term(s) they served as weekly education mentors during the pilot program:
All Gique staff and volunteers (81% of the overall staff and volunteers) were local students or working professionals in STEM and/or humanities and arts. Of the BGCD staff and volunteers, 60% (3) were education professionals, and 40% (2) were local high school students. For all student activities, several program mentors were paired with smaller student groups to achieve a mentor-student ratio conducive to student growth and success.
In addition to helping with general tasks to support weekly operations (e.g. ordering materials, preparing activity kits, printing handouts), volunteers were required to come 30 minutes before each session for preparation and stay 30 minutes after each session for reflection and feedback. Finally, each term ended with a public celebration and STEAM showcase in which students’ families and members of the BGCD community (as well as local STEAM students, professionals, and even government officials) joined the Gique program cohort to celebrate student achievement awards, learn about students’ projects, and, most importantly, get connected to free STEAM educational resources both locally and online, so families could continue to learn about and apply STEAM beyond the scope of Gique’s OST STEAM program.
The objectives of the Gique OST STEAM Program are:
The pilot program was designed to impact the following 3 dimensions of student self-identity:
To understand the intersectional impact of student self-identity development across disciplinary domains, students’ engagement with foundational processes in the sciences and arts as theorized and proposed by Fulton and Simpson-Steele in 2016 were measured, in addition to foundational processes in entrepreneurship (identified through innovation research):
Gique’s OST STEAM pilot program ran from September 2015 through May 2016 and was divided into 2 terms: Fall and Spring. The consecutive term structure enabled students to first learn about STEAM in a fun and exciting way, gaining skills and confidence through structured activities, then apply their new expertise during a student-led, community-focused team design challenge in the second term.
Extensive program documentation in the form of weekly presentation slides, content resources, and an end-to-end guidebook was used to train and support staff and volunteers throughout the course of the program. In addition to information about the Gique program culture, values, and teaching philosophy, the guidebook included the following resources for each monthly topic and weekly lesson:
The first phase of the program — Hands-On STEAM — consisted of 14 1.5-hour sessions structured using the “I Do, We Do, You Do” modeling strategy to foster student-centered, discovery learning experiences. Each student was also provided with a notebook and reflection template to guide weekly journal writings about what they learned in the session, what questions they still have, and their generated ideas in the subject area. Sessions began with students completing their weekly “roses and thorns” on their way into the classroom, using sticky notes to silently write anonymous, positive and constructive feedback about the previous week’s session to be shared with the program staff. Most sessions were structured as follows:
The second phase of the program — Applying STEAM in Society with #HackDorchester — consisted of 13 2-hour sessions structured to maximize as much project-based learning time as possible. At the beginning of the term, students were placed into 5 teams and matched with a local mentor to support them throughout the project lifecycle. Additionally, Boston’s Roxbury Innovation Center (RIC), a civic innovation center which nurtures local economic development by encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, also served as an official program partner and provided a private, on-site tour of their facilities and hosted a community mentorship panel for program students. The following local business owners and entrepreneurs served our students as mentors at RIC to provide feedback and support during their project development, as well as answer career-related questions: Nikita Virani (CEO at Wizdry), Melissa Jones (CEO at The Tech Connection, Inc.), Valerie Basnight (CEO of LIR Productions), Jamila Smith (CEO at Beldwell), Mitch Gaynor (Customer Success Ninja at Dispatch), Mike Demarais (Founder at Handprint, Developer at Dispatch), Diana Vertus (CEO at Exquisite Design Concepts).
Each team was provided with a budget of $160 for materials and services (e.g. professional laser cutting, 3D printing fees) to design and prototype a project idea which addressed a problem in the local community in one of the following categories: Housing & Employment, Climate Change, Education, Citizenship, and Public Health.
At the end of the term, students presented their final projects to the community in a variety of formats: video, posters, verbal elevator pitches, physical and/or digital prototypes, and interactive websites. Attendees of this public showcase provided feedback for each project team to celebrate and consider for future iterations at the final celebration, which was attended by students’ friends and families and the BGCD community.
A summary of Gique’s 2015-2016 pilot OST STEAM program schedule is below:
Fall Term 2015: Hands-On STEAM
Gique developed a broad, yet comprehensive, program assessment model to quantify the impact of its pilot OST program curriculum on student development in science, arts, and entrepreneurship. Both quantitative and qualitative measurements, including online assessments, mid-semester audio/video interviews, and external feedback (through in-person communication or digital/paper surveys) from program staff and volunteers (weekly) and parents/guardians as well as teachers (each term).
To quantify the assessment model, a coding schema was developed to identify, both broadly and specifically, what students learned and in what context it applies to their lives. The resulting schema is a matrix intersecting the common processes in science, the arts, and entrepreneurship with relationship to self, the STEAM disciplines, and the world (as described in the previous section).
Prior to each term, the program leadership set out several goals for student impact, with measurable indicators to assess each goal. During the first session of each term, Gique conducted pre-program assessments online using Google Chromebooks to establish a baseline of understanding for the upcoming curriculum. At the end of the semester, students completed the same assessment in order for the program leadership to understand what deltas occurred and what the development areas were for program improvement. The program leadership remained committed to an iterative curriculum design process, such that program structure, content, and teaching methods were modified as needed week to week, term to term, to improve outcomes and achieve intended expectations.
In addition to concept and keyword review questions (assessing both recognition and recall), below are some of the questions asked of students using a rating system scaled from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree upon entering and leaving the first phase of the OST STEAM program. These questions were adapted from the Museum of Science Boston’s Engineering is Elementary program assessment model:
Upon entering and leaving the second phase of the OST STEAM program, the following questions were asked of students using a rating system scaled from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree, in addition to concept and keyword review questions (assessing both recognition and recall):
Movement was not necessarily expected for every question – and certainly not the same movement for individual students – but the assessment data provided general trends which pointed to students progressing in their mastery of foundational processes and interest in science, entrepreneurship and art & design.
Additionally, given the focus on professional development and mentorship during the second phase of the program, students were also asked to answer the following questions before and after their participation in the #HackDorchester program:
Midway through each semester, students were pulled out individually to conduct one-on-one audio/video interviews with a member of the program leadership, with the intent to understand the following:
While the quantitative data collected often helped to inform strategic decisions and content choices, the qualitative data showed how the program impacted students. Gique wholeheartedly believes that learning experiences should be fun, so asking these qualitative questions were critical to the development and success of the pilot OST STEAM program.
Finally, Gique collected external feedback from a number of stakeholders including program volunteers and staff, parents/guardians, and even students’ school teachers.
Speaking with the program volunteers and staff each week was invaluable, as they were often the closest to the students and observed their progression from week to week. They were best able to measure attitudinal changes around learning, content and collaboration with other students. When program volunteers and staff were able to indicate a positive or negative change in excitement for certain content areas, this helped program leadership to understand the efficacy (or lack thereof) of certain teaching methods and ensure students are continuing to enjoy and derive value from their participation in the program.
Speaking to parents/guardians served multiple purposes. First, parents/guardians are a key stakeholder in the success of any OST program. When parents/guardians feel their children are learning and engaged with the program, they are more likely to enroll and provide support and feedback which enhances the program. Secondly, parent/guardian feedback can be an excellent indicator of how excited a student is about the program. If the student has positive interactions regarding the program with a parent/guardian, the program leadership learns that the program model is effective for the student, and contributing to the feedback cycle for future program success.
Teacher feedback is also important as Gique continues to identify gaps in the mainstream education system. Gique does not seek to replicate existing curricula, but values feedback from educators which help build upon its existing program design. This helps the organization employ best practices to avoid pitfalls that experienced educators have overcome before. Talking to teachers also allows the program leadership to identify the impact Gique’s program may have had on students within their classroom during the school day, which they may have otherwise been blind to.
RESULTS AND ANALYSIS
In seeking to understand the impact of Gique’s OST STEAM pilot program on student self-identity development in science, the arts, and entrepreneurship, an extensive quantitative and qualitative analysis was performed on the online pre- and post- assessment data and the video interview transcripts analyzed using the coding schema described in the previous section.
Following the first term of the program, the following results provided insight into the impact of student participation in the Gique OST STEAM program. The phenomena below were observed for students following the first term of their participation in the program:
Following the second term of the program, the following results provided insight into the impact of student participation in the Gique OST STEAM program. The phenomena below were observed for students following the second term of their participation in the program:
The majority of students interviewed remarked that their original desire to participate in the Gique OST STEAM program stemmed from the program’s focus on making things in the real world, but experienced benefits beyond their initial expectations. Students participating in Gique’s OST STEAM program described the above phenomena in the following kinds of ways:
As the needs of our innovation economy continue to evolve, we have a responsibility to equip our youth with the skills and inspiration to take part, and excel, in building our society’s future. Gique has worked since 2013 to develop an understanding of the limitations of our existing education system, in which students are pigeonholed into discrete, unrelatable topics
hat are not adaptive to their learning needs.
Existing research shows us that incorporating the arts into our curricula can create a lasting, positive impact for youth, demonstrating, rather than solely preaching, the merits of STEAM education. With a focus on building practical STEAM expertise through fun, relatable experiences, Gique’s OST STEAM program has the ability to impact a wide range of students, where they are, and get them excited about what, and how, they are learning.
This study demonstrates the notable impact STEAM learning has on students’ perception of themselves, career paths, and the world, in relation to science, the arts, and entrepreneurship. A significant, measurable increase in curiosity, excitement, and feelings of empowerment to explore themselves and the world around them were observed in pilot program participants. Students emerged more confident in their ability to interact with scientific concepts and have fun learning how to translate these concepts into creative expressions.
By providing our young people with access to transformational STEAM learning experiences, Gique is committed to nurturing and growing the next generation of artists, scientists and leaders; those that will one day imagine and build a future we can’t yet imagine.
We thank the student program participants, their families, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester for their support of the Gique OST STEAM pilot program. We acknowledge Annie Garcia, past Education Intern, and the community volunteer and mentors who helped support design and implementation of the program. Finally, we thank Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz for speaking and inspiring our students during her attendance at Gique’s final end-of-program celebration.