Story and photos by Andrea Kjaer
We’re all more than familiar with STEM as an acronym in the academic world these days.
But is an important letter—and subject—left out? Recently, educators have inserted an “A” into the term, effectively renaming it STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
Students at the 7th Annual STEAM Showcase in Sandy Springs had no trouble making that “A” feel right at home, complete with a flash mob of high-schoolers in white lab coats storming the gym floor to celebrate.
The STEAM Showcase, hosted by the Sandy Springs Education Force, is a science fair taken to a whole new level. With the help of educators and generous sponsors, children in the local school district design and present their work alongside institutions like Comcast and Microsoft that use STEAM skills in the real world.
Educators know that the modern workforce is more technical and specialized than ever. Teachers are taking an innovative approach to prepare the younger generation for success by giving kids STEAM opportunities even as they are building basic skills.
The goal of the educators, participants and sponsors at the STEAM Showcase is to give students experiences that will help them identify and develop as young STEAMers long before it’s time to pick a college major.
If the participation was any judge of the success, the event was a hit. Kids and adults alike crowded around the dazzling array of booths set up around the gym. Many offered unique hands-on experiences with advanced robotics, computer equipment, medical technology, virtual reality and even drones.
Be4StemInc, Kell Robotics and LEGO Education showcased opportunities available right now for kids interested in STEAM. Organizations like the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, Gwinnett Tech and Comcast were among the major exhibitors that offered insight into the ways in which students might use STEAM skills in their future careers.
Some of the exhibitions offered more niche examples, including a local startup called Replantable, a crime scene investigator from the Sandy Springs Police, brain-teasing puzzlers from Mastermind Escape Rooms and high-tech sound equipment demonstrations from the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media.
While there were a lot of high-tech, well-funded projects, the students’ contributions were just as innovative. One group of girls from Lake Forest Elementary showed off the dollhouse they designed and wired with electricity. Thanks to them, Barbie’s dream house now has lighting and fans.
Representatives from Sandy Springs Charter Middle School detailed their experience constructing their own drone in a way that would have impressed a TED audience. Rather than using a prepackaged model, they designed and built their drone themselves.
The persistent students even had to start over more than once when they encountered unexpected problems, like the balsam wood they used as a frame shattering during a landing. With a few experiments, they solved the problem by replacing the fragile balsam with California redwood, which has a natural flexibility—a discovery they made all on their own.
Young scholars at Ridgeview Charter Middle School built bridges and tested their strength against simulated earthquakes, and fellow students gathered around to look at their demonstrations and experiments with equal interest to those of the professional sponsors.
With hard work and a little steam of their own, we bet that these kids will one day be the ones presenting their innovative work as professionals to the next generation of young thinkers.
We’re looking forward to it already.