Full STEAM Ahead!

I don’t tend to jump on buzzwords in education, but after reading countless articles and blog posts and sitting in on a few conference sessions about STEAM education (that’s science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), I was hooked. What I like best about this concept of STEAM is that it is something all good arts educators already know how to do: arts integration! For years now our principals have asked us music, art, dance, and drama teachers to integrate with other subjects, but it tended to be only the social studies and writing teachers who approached us. With this new emphasis on including the arts into STEM education, it’s like we have finally received the green light to collaborate with the science and math teachers we’ve been longing to work alongside. Well, perhaps that’s just me, as I’ve always felt a greater inclination towards math, science, and technology. But regardless, any time the arts can be purposefully integrated into a lesson is a win in my planbook!

Yet, that leads me to the focus of what will be my further investigation into STEAM education. I am curious to know how the arts – music specifically – can be purposefully integrated into a STEM lesson. Arts should not be the icing on the proverbial cake in a STEM lesson; they should be part of the batter, folded into the STEM lesson plan with a gentle hand to ensure all subject areas are carefully blended together. Movement in dance is taught alongside the solar system. Rhythmic notation is taught alongside fractions. Improvisational acting is taught alongside atomic molecules. Song form is taught alongside audio recording technology. Thus I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the book “No Permission Required: Bringing STEAM to Life in K-12 Schools” by Susan M. Riley, which proposes a structure for a meaningful integration of arts and STEM so that all content areas are addressed, side by side, in the same lesson. Riley writes, “[STEAM] integration is the intentional act of finding, aligning, teaching and assessing two or more naturally-connected standards equitably with integrity to both content areas” (2014, p. 16). Riley then proceeds to outline a “STEAM Cycle” to help teachers prepare meaningful STEAM lessons in their own classrooms (which can be viewed at the EducationCloset’s website here.)

MakeyMakey kits
MakeyMakey kits received from DonorsChoose

In my own music classroom, I am only just beginning to explore this concept of purposefully integrating music with STEM learning. I received a huge jump start on this endeavor when a DonorsChoose plea for MakeyMakey invention kits was fulfilled in a matter of days this summer, providing me with some fun new toys to utilize with my students that connect technology, basic coding, and music. Plus I have four littleBits Synth Kits – purchased with a grant received from the Illinois Computing Educators –  that have also allowed me to connect the science of sound production with music composition in my classroom.

But this is only the beginning of my investigation into STEAM education, and I look forward to continuing my pursuit. And, of course, I am happy to share my learning along the way; I have already presented on STEAM at the Illinois Golden Apple’s Teachers for Tomorrow conference in September 2014 (view my presentation here) and have future presentations on STEAM and maker education in the music classroom at the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) Conference on February 27, 2015 and at the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) conference on March 20, 2015. And, I’ll be posting much more about my journey into STEAM here on my blog in the coming months!


Riley, S. (2014). No permission required: Bringin S.T.E.A.M. to life in K-12 schools. Westminster, MD: Visionyst Press.


Chicago EdTech Collaborative 2014

On Thursday, August 14, 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a unique event featuring a wide-range of educational technology start-up companies. This is the second year the Educational Technology Start-Up Collaborative has held a conference in Chicago to introduce K-12 educators to new and innovative tools that are just getting off the ground. The format of this conference is simple: each start-up in attendance gets 3 minutes to pitch their product to the audience. Start-ups spend the rest of the day talking with teachers about their product, providing hands-on demonstrations, and even recruiting teachers to get their classrooms involved in their start-up project. This year, specialized workshops were offered in addition to the start-up showcase, allowing participants to explore topics in literacy, STEM, and design in a focused environment. You can view my notes on the start-up tools I learned about as well as the STEM and design workshops I attended by clicking here.

Summer Vacation 2014: My Big 3 Obsessions

Every year I remind myself how fortunate I am as a teacher to have a summer break. But it’s about more than long days at the beach, lunches with friends, and catching up on my Netflix cue; summer break is a time to reflect on and renew my passion for education. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to leisurely pursue things that fascinate me and drive me to be a better teacher in the next school year. This summer I’ve been focused on three big areas, and I hope to utilize this blog as a means of sharing my research, thoughts, and experiences in these areas. In no particular order, here are the three things I’m obsessed with this summer:

1. Google Apps for Education Pairing my love of using Google Drive with my students with a brand new cart of Chromebooks in my classroom this year, I have become obsessed with learning as much as I can about utilizing Google tools in my curriculum. I have embarked on the journey to become a Google Certified Teacher and am currently making my way through the online testing portion. I’m excited for the new Google Classroom that will be rolled-out in August, and look forward to immersing myself in it and getting my entire staff on board with using it too.

littleBits Synth Kit
littleBits Synth kit in collaboration with KORG

2. Innovation and Creativity in Student Learning You can’t help but hear a few familiar buzzwords being thrown around EdTech Twitter chats and conference rooms lately: Genius Hour/Passion Projects, Makerspaces, STEM (and STEAM) education, design thinking, teaching coding. This year I’ve determined to find out what the buzz is all about by researching these buzzwords and finding ways to implement them into my classroom – even as a music teacher – this coming school year. I am already working on a plan to pilot a Genius Hour project with 7th and 8th graders this fall, and have secured a few littleBits Synth Kits (with a grant from the Illinois Computing Educators) to get started with our exploration of STEAM – that’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math – education.

3. Character Education My readings on student innovation and creativity have caused me to think more about how students learn best, leading me to my favorite book of the summer How Children Succeed, written by Paul Tough. Paul explores a wide array of situations in which children fail and succeed in our school systems, proposing that it is not IQ alone that determines success but how strong a child’s character is. My biggest take away is from his references to Angela Duckworth’s research on grit, inspiring me to ponder how I can teach my students to become “grittier” this school year. Here is Angela’s TED Talk in which she describes what grit is:

As the end of summer nears, I look forward to exploring these three big ideas throughout the school year, with frequent updates on my progress and my failures. I am excited to share and welcome support and feedback along the way!