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Alphabet Soup: STEM, STEAM, E-STEM

What is  ESTEAM?  E-STEM?  STEM? 

STEM = science, technology, engineering, math

E-STEM = environmental science, science, technology, engineering, and math

ESTEAM = environment/earth sciences, science, technology, engineering, art, math

Anna Dutke’s nature-based preschool students in the Prior Lake Savage school district are using the hands-on brains-on ESTEAM approach to playing and learning.  The outdoor mud kitchen area and pumpkin rolling physics lesson are two examples of what Ms. Dutke describes as “play with a purpose.” From community gardening and composting to seasons and snowplay; as an environmental educator, she recognizes interconnectedness of natural systems and gives her students opportunities to play with and within those systems.    Wood, glass, stone toys are used to create.  Toys here are rugged- but not always durable.  Like the seed pods meant to be broken, leaves for crunching, and vegetables that decompose.  Questions are good but not easily answered.  The process can be just as important as the answer.  When I visited the school, kids asked  “How many flowers will the amaryllis have?” and “When will they all bloom?”  but had to observe and wait to learn more.  ESTEAM is more than the sum of it’s parts.  Whether on the floor engineering a town set-up, diving into outdoor dramatic play, whethering the daily weather, or designing a science experiment with amaryllis; in just a short visit I saw preschool kids engaged, solving problems, and asking questions in a classroom culture with ESTEAM and positive self-esteem written all over it.

Why put environment first with  STEM?

While different organizations and authors have variations on the main STEM “recipe,” (see acronym list above) the roots of STEM are solidly Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  STEM learning has evolved into a beautiful blend of those ingredients which together make up so much more than the parts- SYNERGY!  I feel that STEM is about that big-picture systems thinking, including how parts of the community work together to benefit the body, mind, and spirit of the whole child.  Growing Green Hearts fully embraces the E-STEM and ESTEAM movement(s) because:  1) our environment provides the natural resources for the products and systems we engineer, 2) natural spaces, creation, earth’s systems provide inspiration  3) earth’s changing climate needs even more compassionate ethical science literate problem solvers ASAP.

In April 2015, the MnSTEM Network and IGNITE afterschool teamed up for a fabulous conference at the University of Minnesota.  The keynote speakers were inspiring, the variety of workshops was fabulous.  The conference stayed true to the themes of systems building and partnerships, integrating 21st century skills and STEM, and sharing of stories.  People who attended the Growing Green Hearts two-hour session, “Energize Kids About Climate” were from around the state, all committed to kids and working STEM into those learning communities.  Their STEM stories were from museums to community groups, before school care to classrooms and after school clubs.  As the educators worked in teams on a GGH engineering design challenge, the lines between subject areas melted away and the process became just as important as the final energy conservation product they created.  Since STEM ESTEAM, contains many academic areas with a student-centered mindset and creativity core- the projects will spill out into the community as well as attracting community partners to STEM learning initiatives.  Yes, just as threads in a web are interconnected, so become the content, students and community.

Can ESTEAM or E-STEM fit with your classroom, preschool, church?  Yes!  Growing Green Hearts has many examples and specializes in designing environmental STEM based in-school field trips, teacher trainings, and natural playgrounds specific to your site- contact GGH to find out more.

Play. Learn. Love.

April 2015