Learning takes many paths, and at Shady Grove Elementary School in Burnet, one path meanders through the campus’ STEAM Lab.
“We call it STEAM, but it’s similar to a maker space. Really, the focus is encouraging creativity in their learning and letting the kids explore,” said Shady Grove Principal Tasha Briseño. “Yes, their teachers give them some guidance, but it’s a chance for the kids to have some more control over their learning.”
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. The concept is to give students an early opportunity to explore major career paths, but the Shady Grove lab is more about helping students find their learning path.
“For me, the heart of (the STEAM Lab) is it’s not always easy for the kids who may not do as well in (traditional) academics,” Briseño said. “Every child has their own set of unique strengths. Where some students may not excel in certain academic subject areas, they may in creativity, art, music, or even P.E. (athletic ability). This gives them a space to foster a love of learning.”
She added that STEAM is for all students, even those who do excel in more traditional academic settings.
The Shady Grove STEAM Lab lets students try new things, experiment, and even fail. Despite the negative connotation, failure often offers beneficial lessons, one of which is to keep trying.
If a student tries again and again and eventually succeeds, they learn confidence, Briseño pointed out.
“STEAM is a place for trial and error. They learn that making mistakes is OK,” she said. “It’s important to try. They gain confidence from that. And when they’re in class and struggling with learning something, they’ll have that confidence in themselves to keep going and believe they can learn.”
The lab also gives students a “brain break” after hours of classroom lessons, she said.
Items and tools in the STEAM Lab include Legos, marbles, and even coding robots. The lab is set up for pre-kindergarten through second-grade students, the grade levels at Shady Grove. R.J. Richey Elementary School in Burnet teaches third through fifth grades.
The Shady Grove Elementary School PTO helped raised money to start the lab. Campus staff converted a computer lab into the maker space. The Burnet Consolidated Independent School District has been transitioning into a “one-to-one” district, where each student has a laptop, tablet, or similar device assigned to them, eliminating some need for a computer lab.
Shady Grove tried to start the STEAM Lab last year, but COVID-19 put a stop to that. During this year’s fall semester, keeping hands-on items clean was an issue. Students really only began using the lab in the spring.
Briseño said each class will have used the lab three times by the end of this academic year. She plans to expand access next year.
The STEAM Lab does not operate in a bubble. The things the students do in the lab are often incorporated into the classroom.
“In some ways, it’s sneaky learning because it does support what they’re learning in class,” Briseño said. “I want our children to know what their strengths are and be confident. The STEAM Lab is one of the ways we can encourage them to find those strengths and build their confidence.”