Recently, Fletcher Elementary School celebrated another successful annual STEAM Night. STEAM Night is a culmination of extended student-driven inquiry.
There are questioning prompts scattered among the exhibits in every classroom, students are not daunted by the impromptu questions that come from the many visitors. Questions that might elicit very short and uninspired answers on a traditional quiz provoke thoughtful, engaged, and informed responses when asked in the context of these exhibitions. Authentic exhibitions of learning are critical to building student ownership of essential academic concepts and skills in all content areas, but particularly when integrated into engaging STEM inquiries.
Inquiry celebrates the natural, inherent curiosity of children. Fletcher’s STEAM Night exhibition model is framed to engage parents in the inquiry process. Parents can support inquiry-based thinking at home by asking open-ended questions — these kinds of questions are powerful tools to promote problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking.
Fletcher Elementary School uses some Federal funding to support the engagement of families in their children’s learning. The use of these funds for STEAM Night enable Fletcher Elementary School to expand the experience beyond just an event for kids and families at school. The school purchased two STEAM books for families to take home so that they could continue to work on all of the proficiencies and skills that had been highlighted at STEAM Night through engaging activities for parents and children at home. Principal Chris Dodge noted that this investment in parents as partners in their children’s learning “helped to form a strong connection between school content and further educating both parents and students.”
When students see the relevance of content across settings, including their own homes, they more easily and comprehensively make meaning of their learning and how it is applied to their own lives.
Exhibitions of learning can take the form of final products, presentations, or performances. They can be used to authentically assess student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement. Exhibitions of learning allow students to present and defend evidence of academic learning and reflect on growth in proficiency in transferable skills. Student growth and progress can be observed in “real time” when parents and community members are asking questions about the students’ inquiry projects. These “transferable skills” cut across all content areas and are truly portable tools for achievement success.
Authentic exhibitions have a far-reaching impact on a student’s capacity to deepen their skills in communication, self-direction, problem-solving, and critical and creative thinking.