By Jason Vanzant, STEAM lab educator, Newport, North Carolina
Editor’s Note: In a recent post on his Vantaztic Learning blog, Jason Vanzant (a.k.a. @MrVantaztic on Twitter) called his new job as a science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) instructor a dream come true. It’s a dream he’s worked hard to achieve, winning a grant for just over $50,000 from Lowe’s Education Toolbox earlier this year. The grant allowed him to turn a classroom in Bogue Sound Elementary School—a K-5 school in Newport, North Carolina, where he had been teaching fourth grade—into a functional STEAM lab. After we contacted him via Twitter, he wrote a guest post telling us how and why he uses Project WET, as well as why water education is important to him.
Water is and has been important to me since I was a kid. I remember watching Sesame Street's snippet on brushing your teeth and why turning the faucet off was important. When I was in 5th grade, I began to consciously select water instead of soft drinks as my beverage of choice, and that has remained a constant in my life to this day.
As a kid I swam in quarry ponds, and now I live in an area of estuaries and Atlantic waves. Water is part of our life force: Nearly three-quarters of our planet is covered with water, and our bodies are made up of 60 percent water. It's important for our future that young people be aware of how much water we have to share, compared to the increasing population it must provide for, and know what responsible measures we must take to ensure its continuous use.
I have been fortunate in many aspects of my career. Receiving a grant through Lowe's Toolbox for Education to renovate a classroom into a full functioning lab encompassing areas of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics has been an incredible opportunity. The STEAM lab serves as the hub for all elementary grade levels, offering students an opportunity to create, explore through hands-on experiences and develop critical thinking skills. The lab also provides educators the opportunity to co-teach and gives students alternative methods to learn from one another.
In the lab, all students have access to various forms of technology that allow them to voice their findings and discoveries on social media platforms, learn to code, operate robotics and track and record data. They can apply the data that they track and record to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program, while also being able to explore by means of interactive digital labs and supplement as a resource for research.
Overall, the goal of the STEAM lab renovation project is to have each student increase their appetite for one of the many fields science has to offer, and pique those interests by supplying young minds with an environment that engages and stimulates.
As a full-time STEAM instructor, my role allows me to co-teach with grade levels K-5, meeting their science content, assisting as a math coach and leading students in engineering, problem-based and project-based learning activities. Project WET, Project WILD and Project WILD Aquatic play large roles in many of the lessons I integrate into our learning. All of these resources are my "playbook". What I love about Project WET's activities is that they cover an array of skills and topics within a lesson. The integration of math skills, tied with environmental science, tied to problem-based learning and critical thinking is incredible. What I love above all else is that the activities are hands-on. They reach those students who are the “do-ers”.
There are so many activities to choose from that picking my favorites is tough, but here are three of my particular favorites:
A Drop in the Bucket: This activity is a great way to make students conscientious about water while also showing metric volume measurement and practicing basic subtraction facts. Students can create graphs to match the visuals from the graduated cylinders and can compare how much water is on our planet versus how much water the human race actually has at our disposal. With an ever-increasing population, this one's a wake-up call to my students.
The Incredible Journey: I love that this gets the kids outdoors and moving. It’s an awesome way for students to move through the water cycle and learn important vocabulary, like evaporation, transpiration and sublimation. I use this activity as a precursor to discussing physical changes for fifth graders. Students roll the dice, keep a record of the stations they travel to (groundwater, glaciers, the ocean, clouds, animals, plants, rivers, soil) and then we gather back to analyze the data and compare results.
What’s the Solution? This one's a forensic investigation, as students use their knowledge of water's solvent properties and chemical changes. They read a case and explore through three hands-on stations (Dissolving Solids in Water, Dissolving Liquids in Water, Dissolving Gases in Water) to figure out that the butler might actually have done it (or not). It’s another great critical thinking lesson.
Thank you, Project WET. Thank you for the cross curricular lessons, the hands-on experiences you provide, the awareness of why water is so vital to our existence and the fun that comes with learning. You've made my job that much easier and more enjoyable.