STEAM Acronym Conversations I’ve Had Lately


This year, every school in our board will be participating in an inquiry to explore STEAM education. Two weeks ago we launched this initiative with a kick-off event for secondary teachers at the Education Centre.
STEAM is part of my job title; it is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. We anticipated some uncertainty about what this would look like in schools, particularly in secondary schools where we naturally separate the subjects into different rooms, hallways, or wings of our school buildings. I am proud that this acronym is part of my title, though I might add that I’ve had my fill of STEAM puns and jokes for the time being. (These include, but are not limited to ‘STEAM rooms,’ ‘getting STEAMy,’ references to trains and conductor’s hats, and the use of phrases like ‘full STEAM ahead!’…I’m sure you get the idea.) 
I have had many conversations with teachers in the two weeks since the secondary STEAM launch. There are lots of great ideas brewing as school teams decide what direction their projects will take. Interestingly, many of my conversations with teachers have touched on the acronym itself. Months ago, when the idea to focus on STEAM was ‘born’ at the SCDSB, we were aware that the acronym might be met with some raised eyebrows. It turns out we were right!
Acronym Conversations, Type 1: “Where’s my letter?”
  • Can I ‘do STEAM’ if I am a History teacher?
  • I don’t teach Science and I’m not comfortable with Math. I don’t see myself in this.
  • I teach a Foods class and would like to incorporate some Science and Geography. Does this count?


It is obvious from these conversations that the STEAM acronym understates the scope of this work. Focusing on the letters puts us at rick of limiting our thinking. It leaves out the ‘H’ from History, the ‘C’ from Civics, and the ‘G’ from Geography. Social Studies, Health and Physical Education, Business, Modern Languages, are also missing (I’m sure you’ll let me know if I have missed ‘your’ letter). Imagine the possibilities if we bring in other subjects: SHAM, SASS, GAME, CHAT, CHEATS, BEACH, CHASM, GAMES…
I can picture students creating wearable electronics in fashion class, advocating for community needs through kinetic art projects created using found materials, or partnering with schools across the world to learn about the impact of water pollution on health and well-being. I want everyone to hear, loud and clear, that this project can include your letter, even if it’s not one of the letters in the slide deck.
Acronym Conversations, Type 2: “There are too many letters!”
  • I already do STEM really well. Do I need Art?
  • I can imagine bringing some Art into my Math class, but Science too?!?
  • I’m a Tech teacher. I think I do these things already, just not all at once.


It is clear to me that the other problem with the acronym is that it may imply that the removal of a letter diminishes the value of subject integration, suggesting that STEM, MAST, SEAM, TEAS, SEM, MST, TEM, ST, SM, MT, ET, ES, and EM, when done well, are less valuable than STEAM.
Unless subject-specific departments and course codes disappear from secondary school it will be difficult for most teachers to engage in ‘5-letter STEAM’ in a rich way. In our team’s view, every time we purposefully integrate skills and knowledge from more than one discipline into our teaching, we are bringing STEAM education to our students. Teachers who are helping students make these transdisciplinary connections are doing a great job being STEAMy! In this case, the upcoming inquiries may be an opportunity for these teachers to share their good practice within or among schools, or may allow them to meet with like-minded teachers to explore a particular area of interest such as assessment.
So what?
In giving this initiative a name we certainly did not intend to strictly define – or limit – its boundaries. I hope that teachers will be able to look beyond the acronym and see two things: that STEAM already lives in their schools, and that the possibilities for this project are endless.


The word STEAM has become a word that encompasses everything we love about student-driven, inquiry-based learning that integrates a variety of skills and concepts from across our curriculum. As one colleague correctly stated, we could just call it ‘SCHOOL!’ 

The Hologram Story

(This post also appears in our SCDSB 194 Days of Learning Blog!)

I work with a phenomenal team of people. We don’t always see a great deal of each other throughout the week as we pop in and out of the office on our way to and from schools across the county. One way we keep in touch is through Twitter. (You can see what our entire team has been tweeting by checking out Pat Miller‘s list here:

Tuesday evening, I saw this tweet:

Turn your Smartphone into a 3D hologram? Let’s just say this: if you want to do an ‘upcycling’ project to create a device that turns iPads and smartphones into hologram viewers, you don’t need to twist any arms in our department. Those of us who were going to be in the office Wednesday morning offered to bring supplies, and we were off and running.

In the morning we got down to business, creating templates for our CD case pieces on millimetre graph paper, carefully cutting out plastic pieces with utility knives, and trying out different types of glue to see what would best hold our device together. In true PIT fashion, we streamed the whole process on Periscope and viewers from all over the world checked in to see what we were making.

In the end? It worked. (It’s really neat; you should try it.) But what happened next was what made this more than just an impromptu craft activity. We tried to improve upon our original design. We built a couple of larger templates. We talked about other materials we could use. We shared our project with nearby colleagues inside and outside the department. We discussed all of the curriculum connections (math, science, art, etc.) that this activity could support. We discussed classroom safety concerns and modifications for different age groups.

Do you think we’d allow our learning to stop there? Of course not! Later that day when we went home we shared the hologram devices with our families and continued to create bigger, better, and different devices. I made one out of an acetate sheet. My husband used my model to create a template for making more, and proceeded to use this as an activity with his math class on Thursday.

All of us shared our learning with our families and let our own children check out the holograms. They were a big hit. Lisa Boate used her dog’s e-collar to build a larger hologram device that she took to a school with her the following day to share with a students. Their reaction sums up the way we all felt about our first glimpse of one of these holograms:

Jamila recognized the power of the hologram activity to inspire. I am grateful to her for running with this inspiration and I know that all the thanks she really needs is to see the ripple effect it created.

Sometimes it is OK to drop everything for the sake of making something beautiful. (As long as you have the appropriate safety equipment, of course!)

Library Evolution

(This post also appears in our SCDSB 194 Days of Learning Blog!)

Today I had the privilege of visiting the library at Baxter Central Public School. Last spring I had corresponded with the librarian, Andrew Morrison, about transforming part of his library into a ‘Makerspace.’ 

Makerspace has become a bit of a buzzword in the last couple of years; many people are curious about them and wondering how they can create one in their school. Our teacher librarians have a key role to play in this venture as we see many ‘learning commons’ being transformed into multi-purpose spaces, and Melissa Jensen has been doing a phenomenal job sharing her expertise with all of our librarians as they consider their changing roles in our schools. The arrival of the green screens in schools last autumn was probably one of the first indications that our libraries were becoming key locations for students to engage in hands-on creation.

After our short exchanges in the spring, I was thrilled to hear that Andrew had decided to dive into the murky waters of Makerspaces head-first this fall. The list of opportunities that students are being offered in the library at Baxter Central is extensive:

  • 2 puppetry / stop motion lego stations with green backdrops
  • Electricity Snap Circuitry station
  • Builder Station (variety of building supplies with principles about structures and design)
  • Junior Coding Station with CanaryMod / Minecraft on four tablets, also serves as GAFE station
  • Junior/Intermediate Coding Station with two Raspberry Pi devices
  • Examination Station with microscopes, magnifying glasses, and various items
  • Inventor’s Booth with materials and guidelines on invention process (taken from
  • Deconstruction station where there are a variety of devices that the students can take apart.  Using a camera, they’ll take pictures as they take items apart to document their findings.

Upon my arrival in the building this afternoon, I announced to the office staff that my destination was the library. I was immediately told that the library was ‘the place to be’ and that it was fast becoming students’ favourite place to spend time. 

When I arrived in the library, it was buzzing with activity. The makerspace area was jam-packed with students working on a variety of projects. Students were disassembling coffee makers and computers, experimenting with a sonic motion sensor, analyzing body organs taken from plastic models, working on plans for inventions, creating green screen stop-motion videos with LEGO minifigures, and observing slides under a microscope. Sound like chaos? It was. The room was electric. Students were engaged, and reluctant to leave their projects when lunch time arrived.


After lunch I had the pleasure of sticking around to observe a grade 2 class experiment with a Roominate set. (You’ll notice it’s branded for girls, but any girl knows that branding shouldn’t be a limitation for creativity…right, LEGO?) With no instructions students built buildings and furniture and figures out how to create circuits including lights, switches and motors. Students shared their newfound knowledge with their peers, saying things like ‘You need to switch the wires so that red goes with red.’ and ‘If you add a button then you can switch the light on and off; let me show you!’ Their enthusiasm was fabulous and it was a delightful way to end my first visit.

Andrew is calling his Makerspace the ‘STEAM Room.’ Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math were all happening in the STEAM room, but, more importantly, the essence of a STEAM program was alive in that room. Students were collaborating, making decisions, performing research, communicating with peers and with a wider audience, asking deep questions about their tasks, and engaged in authentic tasks. All of this with minimal guidance. Baxter Central is proof that, with appropriate provocations, students will create their own learning opportunities that are guaranteed to produce deep understanding of the world around them.

If you’re thinking about STEAMing up your library or classroom, keep your eyes open for our STEAM inquiry. Every SCDSB school will have a chance to participate in this learning opportunity, and we can’t wait to see how it will transform your buildings.

So, what are you going to make this year? Keep your eyes on this blog for more about our SCDSB Makerspace trailblazers!