STEAM building in Tukwila’s schools | Supt. Nancy Coogan

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. It’s likely that you have heard of the national emphasis on STEM education, but in Tukwila we are pioneering the movement to include the “A”— art is a fundamental way of viewing and expressing oneself in the world.

  • Wednesday, August 19, 2015 6:42pm
  • Opinion

By NANCY COOGAN

Superintendent, Tukwila School District

The 2015-16 school year is almost here, and we are full STEAM ahead!

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. It’s likely that you have heard of the national emphasis on STEM education, but in Tukwila we are pioneering the movement to include the “A”— art is a fundamental way of viewing and expressing oneself in the world; in our fluid, inter-disciplinary workforce, there is an aesthetic/design component to every STEM project and there is a STEM component to every art project (which is why Showalter art teacher Mariah Ordonez was personally invited the White House this spring to demonstrate her outstanding use of technology in the classroom, for example).

So what is STEAM? And why is it important? You are likely familiar with the traditional approach to classroom instruction, where each subject is taught in a designated time with a singular focus on that subject. In a STEAM classroom, science/technology/engineering/art/math connections are brought in throughout every discipline. A teacher won’t just read “The Three Little Pigs” — students will consider the design elements of each of the houses and try to build their own. More importantly, STEAM is a way of teaching across all subject areas. The teacher is a facilitator, and when students receive new information, that’s just the beginning; they are then asked to USE the information in collaborative, engaging, hands-on ways to solve real-world problems. Learning looks a lot more like the modern workplace or laboratory than the typical classroom! Here’s an example: After learning some basic geometric and measuring concepts last year, teams of eighth-graders had to design a new (pretend) city playground and present their drafts to actual City Council members.

Across the nation and in the Puget Sound area in particular, there is a significant shortage of skilled workers for STEAM-related jobs. A report from Washington STEM estimates that 50,000 high-tech jobs in the state will go unfilled because of an inadequate workforce by 2017. Furthermore, STEAM jobs are among the most profitable, expanding, and employable in the nation, with the average salary of a STEAM professional exceeding the national wage average by 71 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In other words, we owe it to our students (and our economy) to expose them early and often to STEAM thinking and careers. When you consider that minorities and females are critically underrepresented in these fields, our obligation — as the most diverse district in the nation — becomes even greater. Our local children are not going to be the next generation of high-tech consumers; they are going to be the next generation of innovators! This bright economic future is open to each and every one of our students.

We have already begun on this important STEAM transformation. Last year, our new STEAM executive director, Dr. Gregory King, forged important partnerships and planning that are going to pave the way for the future of our schools. All of our elementary schools began robotics clubs, hundreds of students learned to code across all grade levels, Foster High students paired with professional scientists to complete a yearlong research project, Showalter students spent a week with doctors learning about forensic medicine, and we brought panels of diverse scientists and engineers to Showalter through UW’s MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Achievement) program, among other initiatives.

This summer alone, students spent a week working as NOAA marine researchers; every student in Showalter’s summer-school program participated in a STEAMtastic camp with high-tech, career-focused workshops; our teachers are getting trained to offer more and more advanced-placement STEAM courses; we have a full-day STEAM Academy (professional development) for teachers coming up on Aug. 26; and we are partnering with UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean to provide potential mentors and workshops. When classes start this fall, almost every student will have one-to-one access to a laptop computer, with programs that are tailored to each learner and provide richer and deeper levels of knowledge. (A huge thank you to everyone who supported the 2010 Technology Levy — and did I mention that STEAM plays a critical part in the bond/levy measure that will go before voters next February?)

Yes, full STEAM ahead, indeed! See you when school begins Thursday, Sept. 3!

In service, Dr. Nancy Coogan

Tukwila School Superintendent Dr. Nancy Coogan can be reached at 206-901-8006 or at ncoogan@tukwila.wednet.edu.

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