By Carlos Calderon, STEAM teacher in Metro Nashville Public Schools
As a STEAM teacher, our classroom projects integrate science, technology, engineering, art, and math, and I’ve been able to make more projects a reality by engaging the community in my classroom.
Connecting with the community has helped me raise the expectations in our classroom, providing my middle school students access to advanced instructional resources. For example, a recent neuroscience workshop at Vanderbilt University was designed for high school students. After I advocated for middle school students to have this opportunity as well, we’ve been able to join in the work, learning about brain function with a brain gelatin mold and tiny balloons that help my students identify the main parts and functions of the brain.
My fifth through eighth grade students are engaged, curious, and learning challenging content because of this opportunity. As an extension, we are collaborating with our English Language Arts teachers to support a unit for our seventh graders on the creative brain. None of this would have been possible without the community involvement of a local university.
Bringing the community into our classroom has also helped broaden our horizons. After Derek Howard, Metro Nashville Public Schools Project Manager for Facility Planning and Construction put me in contact with Jason Larkins, Project Manager from Orion Building Corporation, Jason dedicated three months of his time to help my middle school students understand the wide range of pathways that are available to them after high school graduation. The students learned about the opportunities that our colleges of applied technology offer, Jason learned that community members are teachers, too, and I loved watching my female students perform jobs they had never considered before.
Any time I think about a way to bring the community into my classroom, I consider:
- What limitations might I be placing on myself, and how can I shift my own mindset?
- Which peers should I collaborate with, and when can I plan with them?
- What standards or content am I teaching next, and how can a STEAM project catapult student learning?
- How can I engage the community by thinking outside the box?
- What resources are available, and how can I access them?
Engaging the community in my STEAM classroom is a natural fit. STEAM impacts every aspect of our daily lives, as do the schools, parents, organizations, and businesses around us. Bringing them together means that we lean on each other’s strengths to address our challenges and make a real difference in our students’ lives.