The threads of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) are woven through every grade at Bayview Glen School (BVG), inside and outside the classroom, starting in Junior Kindergarten.
Focused five-year-olds, hunched over laptops in the Lower School Library is a common sight.
It’s part of STEM Learning class, foundational to 21st century learning skills development.
“The idea with STEM learning is to create engaged users of technology,” says Jason Meingarten ‘08, STEM and Health and Physical Education Teacher who has been a BVG faculty member since 2015. He teaches 16 classes in the Lower School.
“We start by building a foundation of computer skills, coding and robotics skills — not so much specific coding languages — but the basic concepts required to be successful in programming,” he says. “From Grade 1 through 5, it’s just building on that year after year. The projects become more complex.”
At the same time, students learn other critical skills like problem-solving, making predictions, taking risks, using technology responsibly – and how they, as individuals, think.
“As part of the Visual Art course as early as Grade 1, students use creative thinking, flexibility and grit to create, revise, design and produce artwork and inventions,” says Robin Elliott ‘91, Visual Arts teacher, citing projects including building a water filtration system (Grade 2), an endangered animal project (Grade 4), and bridge design (Grade 7) as current examples of “intentional connections” teachers across grade levels strive to make to integrate STEAM learning.
An alumna, Elliott has taught at BVG for more than 25 years. She believes the school has a novel approach to STEAM education. “Students are provided the tools to facilitate innovation through parent volunteers, guest speakers, and professional collaborators,” she says, sharing another current example — Grade 7’s liaising with staff from the Canadian Space Agency.
Inquiry-based thinking is further nurtured in SK when Problem-Based Learning (PBL), a teaching method where students are given real-world problems to solve, begins.
Learning to code enters the curriculum in Grade 1 through to 3, setting the stage for 3D design exploration, creating websites, building and programming robots by the end of Grade 5.
During the first year of Prep School (Grade 6), STEAM instruction dives deeper, in part, via Information and Communication Technology (ICT) class.
“Before 2014, there was no designated technology class or program for Grades 6 to 8,” says Laura Gleeson, Technology Integration Specialist, ICT and Geography teacher. “I had the pleasure of both designing this by creating cross-curricular connections to other subjects and developing technology-based curriculum such as design thinking, 3D printing, coding and digital citizenship.”
Photography, photoshop, engineering, graphic design and animation elements are taught in ICT in Grade 7, paving the way for even greater discovery. “Students create their own start-up companies and explore entrepreneurialism,” continues Gleeson, who has a Master’s in Education specializing in Educational Technology. “They create and build a product and pitch it to the class with a business model.”
Throughout the Preschool, Lower School and Prep School years, music and visual arts are curriculum mainstays. These, coupled with varied Clubs and Activities opportunities, reinforce and complement classroom learning.
Robotics clubs are one such example.
Mehernosh (Nosh) Pestonji is Robotics Co-ordinator in the Upper School. He, along with Noeen Kashif, a First Robotics Competition (FRC) Specialist, co-moderate senior robotics clubs, guiding students through practice and competitions.
“Essentially, they have to build and design a robot from scratch, fabricate, go through all the engineering processes in about four to six weeks. Then there’s the competition,” he says.
Pestonji was hired at BVG in 2017 to offer students in the Upper School specific instruction in FRC robotics. “They have to not only imagine a part, they have to design and manufacture it. And then that part has to fit on the robot, and there are hundreds of parts.”
Prior to joining BVG, Pestonji taught in public and private schools for more than 30 years.
“The robots are much larger, 125 pounds, made out of aluminum,” he continues, adding most kids who sign up for the club are new to the experience. “We started with a team of 60, now we’ve cut it down to about 40. There are no tryouts per se, they self- select. We teach them everything. They cross-pollinate and learn from each other, so self-mentoring.”
He says robotics exemplifies the importance of interdisciplinary learning.
“They are bringing all their theoretical knowledge and learnings to apply them in a practical way,” he says. “The key is it’s not just coding, because physics plays a big part, chemistry too. Then you have kids who are just really good with their hands. There are kids who don’t know the tools — how to use a hammer, a screwdriver, how to use pliers. There is a real learning curve there.”
Collaboration and building skills, additional by-products of STEAM, are tested rigorously in the upper high school years.
Deslauriers draws on the example of Jacqueline Fung, a 2022 BVG graduate he previously taught, to illustrate impact.
Fung secured a summer placement at RBC while still a BVG student.
“There were 1300+ applicants for 21 spots, and I was lucky enough to be one of the chosen candidates,” Fung shared in a letter about her journey. “My programming experience is primarily all from Bayview Glen’s ICS [Introduction to Computer Science] courses. When applying, I had to submit my GitHub link, which is essentially an online profile with a programmer’s past projects. On my GitHub, I had my past projects from my ICS courses. [These] allowed me to build my portfolio and prepared me to have the skills to be a full-stack developer,” says Fung, who is currently a student in the University of Waterloo in Systems Design Engineering. “I still have much to learn, but it was very valuable to me especially as I am currently in a co-op program at university. These courses allowed me to kick-start my career.”
Back in the Lower School, faculty across various disciplines like Jason Meingarten, are mindful of continually evolving STEAM instruction, in the younger years, to align with trends and to serve as a strong foundation.
“With 21st century learners, which is how we classify this cohort of kids, they come in with a lot of technology skills,” says Meingarten. “A lot of them at younger ages really have exposure on tablets, so PC skills, which is something we need them to have heading into the Prep School, aren’t necessarily strong. I have noticed, specifically in the past three years, that the skills that they’re coming in with — having been in front of computers so much more than in the past — they are certainly at a higher level.”
Full STEAM ahead indeed.
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