Best sessions, takeaways and key moments from the STEAM Symposium 2017

We’ve been so looking forward to the STEAM Symposium, formally known as the STEM Symposium. For this year’s 5th Annual Conference, the team decided to add the A because, well, Arts matters in the conversation around STEM Subjects. Many educators are doing the same thing to modify and innovate as the ever changing landscape of STEM changes face. As the leaders of the symposium recognize this on their website when explaining the change, “The inclusion of Arts recognizes the important of braiding together Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math learning like the strands of a rope so students gain the skills they need to succeed in the future.” This is wonderful and we all aspire for this, but what does STEAM and Making look like when the rubber meets the road? This is largely what the conference aimed to answer.
There were many sessions that were of great value, of course we couldn’t hit them all. We’ve worked on a recap of some of the best sessions and key moments of the Symposium, including some links to shared resources from the presenters to help you in your STEAM work.
1) STEAM Grant Writing 101 – When developing a STEAM program, there comes the added pressure of finding the funding to support and sustain your organization’s mission. This workshop got to the meat of that issue. Jennifer Janzen, Science Coordinator and an experienced grant writer with over 20 years experience. She even provided an amazing STEM/STEAM Grant Resource guide that she’s worked to compile – perfect of the both amateur and novice grant-writers alike.
2) Support Equitable STEAM Education via Citizen Science – This session got the audience to think about how citizen science can bridge equity divides and accessibility of STEM programs in 21st century learning environments. Erin Hodgeboom of National Girls Collaborative Project and Jennifer Fee of Cornell Lab of Ornithology discussed ways that students can engage in meaningful scientific observation and data collection that push scientific research further. What is Citizen Science you ask? Citizen Scientists are volunteers that collect information and partner with scientists to answer real-world questions. They make observations that are shared with the broader community. This approach can get kids to connect with the scientific method in a real way while seeing their data points and observations push scientific research event further.
3) Getting started with Makerspaces –  It’s true that makerspace developed can be overwhelming and daunting, to say the least. With the numerous options for programs and tools – not to mention price tags – it can help to get the advice from someone who has been around the block in this area. Rick Schertle is a teacher at Steindorf K-8 STEAM Middle School San Jose, CA. He created an amazing teacher resource from the development of the Steindorf’s Maker Lab. One of the most important tips he gave were to take advantage of the inexpensive mobile making cart. It’s the best way to start out small on a limited budget. You can couple the cart with rotating workshop sessions to maximize time spent. His lessons come from working with small budgets and a lot of imagination, just as any Maker would.
4) Resetting Your Makerspace baseline: Equity & inclusion Through CommunityCentered Making – Something interesting about making that doesn’t come up often is making Makerspaces more accessible, especially for underserved communities. I was very excited to attend this session which was designed to address exactly cultural issues that create barriers. This session was led by Daniella Shoshan, a Program Manager at MakerEd’s Maker Vista. Many of her suggestions come from a place of practicing empathy and simply engaging the audience the makerspace is intended to serve. Building relationships with this audience and their influencers, like parents and other teachers, are important steps toward acceptance.
5) STEM Education Equity: Effective Measurement of Social and Emotional Learning in STEM programs  For the program evaluation nerds out there, this sessions usability and meatiness was off the charts. It was led by Sonia Koshy Evaluation Specialist at the Kapor Center and Frieda McAlear of the Level Playing Field Institute. These two ladies studied the measurable impact of SEL Learning in STEM programs and detailed their logic models in a study of the 2016 SMASH (Summer Math and Science Honors Academy) impact report. When we talk about program evaluation and appropriately measuring results of something as seemingly “squishy” as Social Emotional Learning can be, it’s wonderful to understand what other organizations are doing to blaze that impact trail.
While not sessions, there were some impactful moments that deserved some honorable mentions, because, well, they were just awesome!
1) General Session presenter – Gokul Krishnan – Learning Scientist, creator of Maker Therapy and founder of Project Makerspace at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Gokul was not only an amazing presenter, but had a a heart wrenching story to share. As a PhD student, he created the first mobile making station for children who were chronically ill and began the journey of studying what he calls “Maker Therapy.”  Gokul began explaining some of the benefits these mobile making stations had on the students, including and not limited to a more than 5x increase in physical activity and increased connectedness to other patients and nurses. Gokul explained the importance of getting the user involved early and often when developing spaces intended to be for their use and benefit. See this short video of the Maker Therapy pop up space in the Children’s Hospital. A reminder for educators to ensure accessible making for everyone.
2) Meeting Dale Dougherty, CEO of Make – So, full transparency. We are kind of, what one might call Maker nerds. Our team is heavily involved in the local Maker community as well as contribute to maker Magazine. We were thrilled to meet and talk with Dale Dougherty, CEO of Make. We  discussed the continued development of the Maker community in San Diego. One important aspect of that is to create Makerspaces that are driven by the user, much like Gokul described in his development of the mobile making station.
Many of the themes we enjoyed focused on user-centered design and engagement of the audience intended to serve. This idea of user centered design in making is not new, but sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle. The pressure from administration and even parents to create makerspaces simply because it’s the educationally trendy thing to do, would be the wrong way to approach Making in STEAM education. Instead, pause and understand first, who is this space intended to serve and then include them in the discussion early and often.
Did you attend the conference – What were you’re favorite sessions?