California State University, Long Beach
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Full STEAM Ahead

Published: May 2, 2016

Getting the community involved. That’s what STEAM Night is all about. That, and preparing student teachers.

STEAM is a variation of the well-known STEM acronym (science, technology, engineering and math) with the “A” standing for art.

“This is innovative in that I don’t know of any other schools that put together all these concepts into a family content literacy learning night,” said Paul Boyd-Batstone, who serves as chair for the Department of Teacher Education at CSULB.

STEAM events are planned and organized by student teachers in the SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union (SFFCU) UTEACH program, who are placed at a school site for an academic year as a key part of their teacher preparation.

STEAM nights take place twice annually as part of the SFFCU UTEACH Program, with Long Beach Unified School District’s Carver and Willard elementary schools each hosting such events once a year. On STEAM Night, the entire school is opened up and a number of activities are presented as individuals rotate between classrooms.

“When we did the very first one about five years ago, I was told that it was the first time in about 15 years that any community science event had been held at that school,” said Teacher Education’s faculty member Felipe Golez, who serves as the co-director of the SchoolsFirst FCU UTEACH program whose core faculty include Teacher Education’s Deborah Hamm and Science Education’s William Straits.

“I recall at that first event we had about 650 attendees and we ran out of tickets that we used to count family participants. I realized then, that in many of these school communities there are very few, if any, wholesome family entertainment opportunities available and school community educational evenings provide such a venue.”

According to Hamm, another big reason STEAM got its start was that student teachers need to be able to teach science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, but they weren’t seeing it being taught in an integrated way in regular classroom settings.

“We decided to have staff development for the school site master teachers around STEAM themes,” said Hamm, who oversees student teachers from Carver and Willard. “That way student teachers could see how to teach STEAM content, but they still weren’t seeing it taught enough in the classrooms, so we decided to have a STEAM night that the student teachers put on as a community event working with parents.”

As important as science and math are, Hamm feels the “A” in STEAM is a key component to the program’s success.

“That’s a new twist because it’s not just about the sciences and technology, it’s also about the other aspects of liberal arts that are involved in 21st century learning,” said Hamm. “Art is a hugely important component. You have some children who think differently, children who are strong in the arts. When you cut out the arts, for some, creativity disappears. We need to let them draw something, talk about it, then write about it.”

Hamm noted that teachers want their community to be involved, so STEAM night provides an opportunity for students to invite family members—brothers, sisters, uncles, parents and grandparents—to participate.

“They are all able to get involved in the activities,” said Hamm, “so the student teachers have to design activities that work for a wide age range, and they do.”

Felipe Golez (c) with UTEACH student teacher Stephanie DeLeon at a recent STEAM Night event.
Felipe Golez (c) with UTEACH student teacher Stephanie DeLeon at a recent STEAM Night event.

The evening is also a tremendous learning experience for the student teachers involved as they prepare to step into a classroom of their own. One of those is Melissa Maldonado, who clearly sees the benefit of STEAM Night.

“Part of this is to get the science content in front of the students and to get them thinking about different areas of science content,” said Maldonado, noting that the SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union scholarship she has received allows her the freedom to focus on her student-teaching duties. “And part of it is also an opportunity for the parents to participate in their student’s learning progress, learning abilities and participate in the school. It’s important for them to see the environment their children go to each day and see the type of work that is expected of them.

“We hear a lot of positive feedback from the parents who come, how organized the event is and the activities are really student friendly,” she added. “Parents are able to help their children complete the activities and understand the concepts we’re trying to convey to them, and it’s a great experience for those of us who are student teachers.”

The CSULB student teachers involved in organizing the STEAM events are supported, in great part, through stipends and scholarships thanks to a $500,000, five-year commitment from SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union. That gift supports the UTEACH program—renamed the SchoolsFirst FCU UTEACH program—which supports a clinical practice model to prepare teacher candidates at CSULB and has led to improved educational experiences for low-income children in urban schools. The gift provides five $5,000 competitive scholarships each year, as well as $1,000-$2,000 incentive scholarships for all program participants.

“Essentially, their teacher training and education moves from the university to a working school site. The overriding theoretical understanding being that in order to learn to teach children, you must do so while working in a classroom with children,” said Golez. “The planning of the SchoolsFirst UTEACH Family STEAM nights provides the student teacher with the opportunity to experience every aspect of planning an educational community event in a public school setting. This provides the student teachers with a jolt of teacher efficacy. They learn that if they can do this as a student teacher, they can most certainly do something similar as a practicing credentialed teacher.

“Another benefit is that student teachers can note on their resumes that they have planned and carried out a school/community event and fully describe the process they used to successfully make it happen,” he added. “Overall, everyone involved exits this kind of experience feeling uplifted and energized including the university faculty that help and take part in the event.”