STEAM lab puts youngest learners on career-ready path

Districts of Distinction update: Lawson Early Childhood School's Schools of Engineering program is still moving full STEAM ahead.
By: | March 22, 2019

The STEAM Lab at Lawson Early Childhood School continues to be a place where preschoolers problem-solve, grow, create and collaborate.

The school’s STEAM lessons are aligned to Texas’ prekindergarten guidelines with open-ended tasks requiring communication and critical thinking, which allow students to explore many solutions to problems through play.

Lawson’s young students benefit from opportunities to build lifelong (yes, career) math and science skills as they code robots, design structures and learn to persevere through challenges.

Through play and careful design, teachers are developing confident risk-takers as they explore STEAM for the first time and learn to collaborate, communicate and explore multiple options to different tasks.

In the two years since the program launched, STEAM lab lessons have become more open-ended and allow for greater teamwork. The school realized the need for social-emotional learning and has incorporated sharing, listening and self-regulation skills into the lessons. Staff designed a teaching cycle (thinking, planning, doing, reflecting), with each lesson planned to meet specific academic guidelines. Higher-order questions, visuals, “I can” statements, and reflective questions allow students to acquire the needed academic and social vocabulary.

Teachers develop STEAM lessons through flipped learning, in which they have an opportunity to explore and ask questions about the lessons in advance. In the lab, students engage in open-ended, hands-on experiences that cover an overarching theme, such as energy or construction. After a class visits the STEAM lab, teachers facilitate reflection on the learning and discuss experiences, honing in on vocabulary and creative problem-solving.

Purchases of new materials, such as Cubetto for coding and more consumable materials for the arts stations, are ongoing. All classes rotate through the STEAM lab each week, totaling nearly 650 students.

Staff realized the need for students to learn in multiple settings, so over the past two years they created a motor lab, in which students rely on large motor skills, such as running or jumping.

Educators would like to add a sensory lab as well.

Many administrators and faculty in the area have come to see the program in action, looking to model it.

The school continues to assess students in five primary domains of development and has found huge growth in each area: Emergent literacy–reading, 96 percent; emergent literacy–writing, 87 percent; language and communication, 86 percent; health and wellness, 89 percent; and mathematics, 94 percent.

Original June 2017 Districts of Distinction story—

Guided Learning Through Play

McKinney ISD

McKinney, Texas

Pre-K STEAM lab

Playing with fire in the Lawson Early Childhood School has a whole new meaning—and it’s a good thing.

In McKinney ISD in Texas, students as young as 3 are learning lifelong math and science skills by designing structures, coding robots and conducting science experiments.

Lawson is unique in providing STEAM learning for all students while blending higher-order thinking with the play necessary for young learners. While STEAM lessons are aligned to Texas’ pre-K guidelines, open-ended tasks requiring communication and critical thinking allow students to find various solutions to problems.

The Lawson team designed a teaching cycle of thinking, planning, doing and reflecting to ensure success in the new STEAM lab.  “I can” statements are built in so students acquire the needed academic and social vocabulary.

And teachers learn about STEAM lessons through flipped learning videos, giving them a chance to ask questions about the lessons in advance.

In the lab, students partake in open-ended, hands-on experiences that cover an overarching theme, such as energy or construction, requiring them to think, question and communicate. Following the lab, teachers hone in on vocabulary and creative problem-solving as they discuss the activities with students.

It prepares them for what’s in store. College and career readiness standards mandate that students graduate as creative, innovative, collaborative learners and risk-takers. The STEAM lab has highlighted the need for exposure to hands-on learning. Those who know how to think like engineers, scientists and artists become flexible thinkers in whatever career they choose. And the lab has coached teachers to design classroom lessons incorporating higher-order thinking and questioning skills that encourage learners to be innovative risk-takers.

School administrators also founded #ECEchat, a weekly Twitter chat that connects early childhood educators around the world who have lead chats about STEAM in the early childhood years.

To start your own program:

  • Meaningful lessons can be accomplished with existing materials. Focus on how to use supplies already on hand in creative ways. Start small and engage teachers in the process.
  • Every step in the learning process is important. Conversations and reflections are crucial to students’ ability to communicate learning and to draw conclusions.

Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.