S.T.E.A.M. or Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math is the successor to STEM, acknowledging something we already knew at ACDS: Children learn best when they understand (and experience) the connections between subjects and ways of knowing, particularly when these connections come alive in pursuit of an answer to a scientific question or design challenge.
Thus STEAM offers a perfect intersection for project-based learning, collaboration, strengthening communication, creativity, and problem-solving in a multidisciplinary way. We know that children today will emerge into a world that is global, interdependent, connected and highly technological. STEAM at ACS helps prepare our students to thrive in this future by building their teamwork, creativity, and curiosity today.
Science in the elementary grades deepens concept comprehension through our student-led, hands-on, minds-on activities. Children work in teams and independently to complete investigations and design challenges, making science interesting, collaborative and exploratory.
Projects in our science classes include:
- Ice castle construction and witnessing the rate of melt based on weather conditions
- "Ant Restaurant" offers different colored sugar waters
- Programming and designing Lego robotics
- First-hand, empirical observations of botany, plant ecology, and horticulture in our organic garden
- Designing cars from recycled materials and calculating speed and force
- Answering questions such as "How much energy does it take to roll a bicycle uphill based on a weight of (X)?"
ACDS students practice coding in their core classes, not as a separate activity; we see programming as a basic skill. More broadly, our goal is for teachers to integrate technology into their lessons, so that technology becomes a tool to extend student learning rather than an end in itself. As part of the STEAM approach, technology at ACDS is embedded into the learning experience in every subject, just as it is in the world beyond the classroom walls.
- In the ACDS App Fair, an event unique to ACDS, founded in 2013, students from grades 3-8 exhibit their programming skills by presenting an amazing collection of original robotics, games, apps, and other coding projects they design themselves.
- The Imaginarium is the ACDS makerspace, hosting student groups from Early Childhood through Middle School. The Imaginarium is equipped for children to design and build an array of STEAM projects, working in teams and individually.
- ACDS hosts a chapter of the national organization Girls Who Code, which supports middle school girls learning to code or developing advanced programming skills. The GWC is led by an ACS technology teacher and a former CTO of the tech giant PayPal. They make field trips to meet successful female engineers and executives at Silicon Valley firms including Facebook and Yahoo!, learning about career options for programmers.
- ACDS participates in the worldwide Hour of Code, a global movement that promotes programming by introducing the basics with fun, elementary coding projects (and which launched our "coding across the classrooms" initiative in 2014).
Just as they become familiar with the scientific method, ACDS students develop the habits of engineers; they practice the design iteration process, build communication, empathy, and interpersonal skills as they work in teams, learn how to program a 3D printer to create objects, and complete projects using a design-based thought process in the Imaginarium. To prepare for the Engineering and Design Fair in the Spring, student teams are prompted with real life challenges (such as limiting the spread of invasive cane toads, helping disabled people, and addressing global hunger), and asked to solve them by designing and building original cane toad traps, developing inventions to help the blind or disabled, and identifying ways to transport food drops to ravaged or impoverished areas of our world.
ACS students begin creating 2D and 3D art in our Early Childhood classes, and continue to study and create art through their elementary and middle school years. Artistic practice and appreciation is integral to the ACDS Experience for children, just as artistic design is integral to the development of technology here in Silicon Valley. For instance, what would the brilliant iPhone be without its elegant and intuitive design? Beyond designing their projects, students create signage, brochures, and other materials to describe, promote, and "market" their creations.
Math at ACDS combines the acquisition of fundamental skills with an emphasis on the use of manipulatives, simulations and modeling, and project- and problem-based activities that help children understand mathematical concepts and their application in the real world. This takes shape in hands-on math experiences ranging from piecing together tangram puzzles in preschool, to learning integers with a friendly game of football, to water balloon tosses that model parabolas and provide opportunities to apply the quadratic equation. At ACDS, our math teachers help children build deep mathematical foundations early on that continue to advance through middle school.