According to the first AASL snapshot surveys regarding school librarians’ roles during school closures, 52.97% of respondents are providing online classes. They are instructing learners in research, digital resources, and digital citizenship, as well as providing virtual book clubs, storytimes, and read alouds.
Whether you are one of the more than 50% of school librarians who is providing online instruction or would like to dip your toes into these new waters, consider adding STEAM to your online instructional repertoire. Preliminary results from the second AASL snapshot survey found that 15% of respondents are integrating STEM/STEAM activities into their online instruction. STEAM is an instructional approach that blends science, technology, engineering, and/or math with art to provide learners with an inquiry-based interdisciplinary approach to learning. STEAM projects do not need to be time or labor intensive, and can often be completed with simple supplies that most families already have on hand, making it a perfect fit for instruction by librarians with busy schedules during the regular school year AND during the pandemic.
In STEAM Activities in 30 Minutes for Elementary Learners, I share fourteen activities school librarians (and other educators too!) can do with their learners. Although the book was written before the pandemic and resulting school closures, all fourteen activities are designed to be completed with easy-to-obtain materials like empty plastic bottles, paper clips, and tape. Technology extensions included with the activities are all written for use with Google Sheets, and therefore can easily be added to Google Classroom assignments or shared with learners directly.
For example, “String Art: Exploring Patterns” requires string, glue, paint, a ruler, scissors, and construction paper (any paper will do, if needed), as well as a wooden block (which can be substituted with cardboard). Learners create a design with string on their block, paint the strings, and them stamp out different patterns by rotating their block.
Learners engage in the inquiry process by asking questions and testing theories. The lesson in the book encourages learners to compare their patterns with other students’ patterns. What’s the same, what’s different? How could learners change their patterns? What happens if learners rotate their blocks differently? Could learners combine two different block designs together?
Learners could then share photos of their work–perhaps in a Google doc or on Google Classroom–and then the educator can guide learners in an online discussion about the similarities and differences of the patterns. What worked and what didn’t and why? In this way, school librarians can help learners practice inquiry skills and practice a growth mindset. Throughout the book, growth mindset tips are offered to help learners focus on learning, rather than being right or wrong. For example, one such strategy is to focus on positive self-talk; instead of saying “I can’t do it,” say “I’ll try a different strategy.”
If materials are not available or if it’s not practical to implement the hands-on portion of a lesson, the Technology Integration section in each lesson of STEAM Activities in 30 Minutes for Elementary Learners can be done independently. For the “String Art” lesson, learners can create a pattern by coloring cells in their Google Sheet and then using various features such as Transpose to turn their shape into a pattern.
Regardless of which STEAM activities are chosen, there are several ways educators can engage learners with STEAM online. For those that are meeting with learners during live video conference events, provide families a list of supplies to gather ahead of time and then guide learners through the activity (with parental supervision at home as needed). If live meetings are not an option, why not record yourself conducting the activity and send the video to your learners? They can try it themselves, consider any critical thinking questions and prompts, and then take photos or videos of the results to share back with their school librarian and/or classroom educator.
STEAM activities also offer great opportunities to collaborate with the other educators in your building. The book includes a collaboration tip in each lesson. If you decide to do the “String Art” lesson, why not work with the classroom educator to talk about more and different kinds of patterns; or bring in the art or music educator to discuss how patterns are used in art and music? The book will get you started, but opportunities are endless.
This approach to online learning may not work for everyone, but for some, it might be a great way to engage learners and families, help them see the school library and librarian in a new light, and provide a way to continue offering inquiry-based instruction.