Shawnee, VanGorden Next in Lakota's Expansion of STEAM Labs

Shawnee, VanGorden Next in Lakota's Expansion of STEAM Labs
Posted on 03/20/2017
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STEAM 2At first glance, it may seem like nothing more than a lot of little hands tinkering, but all around Lakota elementary students, and now early childhood school students, are already being introduced to concepts that apply to engineering, science and technology.

Both Shawnee ECS and VanGorden Elementary recently launched their STEAM labs, designed to bolster early learning and exposure to science, technology, engineering, applied arts & design, mathematics and medical fields.

Gail Allshouse, principal at VanGorden Elementary, said, “It is great to see the excitement our students have about our new STEAM lab. They so enjoy learning in this capacity and we’re excited to see how this opportunity enriches their learning."

Theresa Brock, princial at Shawnee ECS, agrees. "Students love going to the STEAM lab to work.Teachers really emphasize the question, imagine, and plan portions of the Engineering Design Process.After their planning, students will come back to the lab and go through the create and improve sections as they develop and build structures.It is amazing to see students evolve their thinking and make changes to their designs."​​​​​​​

It’s all part of the district’s emphasis on ensuring all students are prepared for their future, through encouraging creative problem-solving, teamwork and the ability to understand STEAM2 concepts. The U.S. Labor Department figures show that more than one-half of the fastest-growing and highest-paying occupations are STEAM2-related fields.

For students in Lakota’s early childhood and elementary schools, such exposure is incorporated into the curriculum through fun, hands-on activities. Modules like “Engineering is Elementary,” allow students to learn through trial and error and teamwork.


Components range from creatively thinking about how to improve processes using Play Dough and focusing on chemical engineering concepts to evaluating and improving landscapes utilizing geo-technical formats. As students continue in their elementary school years, concepts continue to build upon one another, with activities becoming more and more student-driven.

Much of the learning is about how to think, rather than on specific techniques or facts. In the STEAM labs, students are asked to follow steps such as:

  • Ask – What are the problems and what are the constraints?
  • Imagine – Brainstorm ideas and choose the best one.
  • Plan – Draw a diagram and gather needed materials.
  • Create – Follow the plan and test it.
  • Improve – Discuss what can work better and repeat the above in order to make changes.

Kevin Thomas, assistant principal at Shawnee, notes a recent lesson with a kindergarten class. "It really emphasized the question, imagine, and plan portions of the Engineering Design Process," he said. "Later, they will come back to the lab and go through the create and improve sections as they develop and build structures made entirely of spaghetti and marshmallows."

He adds, "Teachers will be able to use rubrics that coincide with the lessons to gauge how well the design process is working and the level of understanding of each student group.”

Click here for more information about Lakota’s STEAM initiative.