Science is everywhere! It is all around us, and opportunities to discover its secrets have never been greater. For years, I grappled with the challenge of getting my students and their families to see the importance of a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) education. How can you create opportunities for students so that they understand their options? How do you inspire your students to pursue these options? How do you develop a STEAM culture that will nurture students’ creativity and promote a growth mindset?
As the science coordinator at my school, I considered many ways to bring students, families, and community members together for hands-on learning from STEAM experts. One of my most successful projects is our school’s annual STEAM Fest event.
We developed STEAM Fest to further expose students and their families to science-related topics in order to build an interest in STEAM. My ultimate goal was for students and families to think critically and creatively to develop solutions for inquiry-based activities while having fun and exploring new subjects.
Our first STEAM Fest started on a Tuesday night in the gym with a panel of STEAM experts and our principal as the moderator. Afterward, we explained the expectations for STEAM Fest while the STEAM experts, teachers, and student leaders sat at stations waiting for students and families to enter the cafeteria.
These educators, student leaders, university professors, and STEAM professionals came together to create an enriched experience for students. My heart was filled with joy as I watched families and students participate in various activities. They were excited to learn together!
At that event, I realized that STEAM can be for all if we come together as a community to create engaging experiences for our children. If we are to succeed in teaching STEAM to our students, teachers cannot work in silos. If your school would like to bring your community together for a similar festival, these tips will help.
How to Create Your Own STEAM Fest
1. Form a committee. The key to organizing a successful STEAM event is to rely on a committee of teachers, parents, student leaders, and STEAM experts. You want a diverse group of voices at the table to ensure that all aspects of STEAM are being addressed. Don’t forget to work with your fine arts department to keep the A in STEAM.
The committee helps with planning by sharing ideas or discussing potential activities, roles and responsibilities of educators, partnerships with contributors from outside your school, and advertisement. Having a committee also helps develop buy-in, which is crucial to having a successful festival.
2. Plan activities to fit your curriculum. Review the district curriculum and standards. This is beneficial because you can align the festival experiences with what students are learning in their classrooms. A great way to gather activity ideas is to ask teachers for recommendations.
At our STEAM Fest, we have 10 to 15 stations. Some of our most popular stations have involved making ice cream, building the tallest tower using a limited amount of tape and straws, flying drones, making musical instruments, building a structure that could survive an earthquake, and a maker space with various items for creating.
There should be enough activities planned to keep families engaged for the whole event. You want them to move through all the stations and enjoy doing it together. To this end, it can be helpful to survey the students and parents to see what types of STEAM fields they are most interested in.
Your STEAM Fest can be held at night to focus on including family members or during school hours to focus on including all the students.
3. Partner up. Partnerships are pivotal to a successful STEAM Fest. Partners from other schools, a local university, or STEAM-related companies in the area can help with planning and running exhibits or hands-on activities for students and families. Local universities, for example, may have activities or traveling exhibits that you can use. Some may even have ambassadors who will support your event.
STEAM experts from the business world are often happy to lead stations as well, providing students and families with the opportunity to ask questions and be inspired by their work. As I work in an urban school with predominantly students of color, I make sure to invite experts from diverse backgrounds to match the demographics of my school.
4. Gather resources on a budget. We all know that money is tight. But that doesn’t have to keep your STEAM Fest from reaching its potential. Ask teachers if they have any materials you can use. Then reach out to parents and ask them to donate items. You will be surprised what items are collecting dust in someone’s home. For less common items, museums and local universities may be able to help. Many of the STEAM experts you invite will bring the items needed for their stations. All you have to do is ask.
5. Sell people on attending. You will need to find ways to motivate students and their families to show up for the event. You can create videos and flyers, provide food, or offer prizes. Consider beginning your event with a panel or presentation where experts can discuss the importance of STEAM.
6. Involve participants as much as possible. We have families sign in using a QR code. The stations and activities are labeled with the name of the activity and have instructions for the students and families. Everyone receives a card with the name of the activities to check off as they complete them. The cards encourage families and students to complete all the stations. They then submit the cards for a drawing at the end of the event (as a side benefit, this creates a record for the event committee). We also ask participants to complete a survey to help us plan for the next event.
STEAM Fest is an effective way to inspire students and their families to pursue higher education, promote a growth mindset, and bring the community together.