In the 21st-century workplace, success requires strong communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity skills. While technology has opened a world of learning opportunities for students beyond the classroom, many teachers lack access to these resources and the know-how to integrate them effectively. By establishing a STEAM lab, teachers can acquire the necessary resources to prepare students for the future by cultivating their 21st-century skills. Keep reading to find out about the STEAM labs. Or learn more about technology in classrooms here.
What Is a STEAM Lab?
As a 21st-Century Learning Specialist, I supervise the development and implementation of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) Labs across schools. These innovative spaces cultivate creativity and inspire students to explore the wonders of STEAM education by offering exciting learning possibilities for students, including:
For instance, a Coding & Robotics class can involve students working in teams to design and program a robot to navigate a maze. Using block-based coding, students would guide the robot through the maze. This activity promotes problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork skills among students, nurturing their ability to tackle real-world challenges with determination. I hope that by sharing my personal experiences, I can help you make informed decisions in building your STEAM lab and steer you away from the potential pitfalls that may arise during the process.
Why Build a STEAM Lab?
STEAM labs offer students a dynamic, hands-on, and engaging environment carefully designed to provide them with the essential skills needed for success in the modern workplace, right in the classroom. These labs provide unique opportunities for students to cultivate their abilities, preparing them to excel in the ever-evolving professional landscape. In doing so, STEAM labs forge skills for successful careers and entrepreneurship within students.
Three Steps to Building a STEAM Lab
With the wealth of benefits STEAM labs offer for students, it’s no wonder that they appeal strongly to educators, students, and parents alike. Building a STEAM lab can be overwhelming, considering the need for suitable space, acquiring specialized equipment, identifying skilled instructors, and securing funding. This leaves schools without a STEAM lab wondering “where do we start?” Building a STEAM lab requires a thoughtful approach. To guide schools on the path to success, this infographic outlines 3 core steps for schools to follow to build a successful STEAM lab. However, please note that the specifics within each step will vary depending on your school’s initiatives, available funding, and community support.
Step 1: Identify Space for the STEAM Lab
Ensuring a secure and safe environment for students and the technology they house is vital when building a STEAM lab. Certain aspects must be prioritized to create a dynamic environment for students to learn and innovate. Therefore, it is important to thoroughly walkthrough of the school’s facilities and take note of any necessary repairs and improvements when determining potential lab locations. Selecting a location with sufficient space is essential to allow students the freedom to comfortably engage in hands-on activities without feeling cramped.
To facilitate this, I recommend securing computer stations, 3D printing stations, interactive flat panels, and other large technology against walls. This creates an open middle space that allows for flexible seating and furniture configuration. Given the range of learning opportunities that STEAM labs offer, the lab must be flexible for different lesson types. Schools should therefore choose a room layout that allows for easy arrangement of furniture and equipment to accommodate various activities and seating configurations. By choosing a layout that allows for the easy rearrangement of furniture, the STEAM lab can foster collaboration and creative thinking. Additionally, consider the amenities of each potential location. To support the technology and equipment used in the lab, the chosen location must have enough electrical outlets and offer strong internet access. It is also important that the STEAM lab is a safe place for learning, so look for a space that has a dedicated area for students to leave their belongings or is large enough to house lockers.
Step 2: Ordering Equipment
Once you have secured a suitable space, the next step is to decide on the equipment. Before placing any orders, research the initiatives that are available to your school for purchasing technology. Also, seek recommendations or an approved list of technology from your technology department, as they will help ensure that the selected equipment aligns with the school’s technological infrastructure and requirements.
When choosing furniture, consider the size of the lab, how many students will be using it, and their age groups. Lightweight and easily movable furniture is ideal as it enables flexible arrangements for individual or group seating, allowing seamless transitions between different learning setups. Consider adjustable seating to accommodate varying age groups, and order items, such as storage cabinets, movable carts, and a well-organized teacher’s desk to keep the lab tidy and efficient. It is important to equip the lab with appropriate technology to support each type of STEAM lesson. For instance, starting a school news channel may require a Padcaster Studio with an iPad, while coding and robotics classes would need powerful desktop computers. For some inspiration, consider this equipment list:
Step 3: Designating a Point Person
Designating a point person to lead and maintain the STEAM lab is vital for its success. Whether in a full-time, part-time, or volunteer capacity, this individual is crucial in expanding the lab’s usage and accessibility. A primary responsibility of theirs is to document the lab’s usage and student experiences. This data not only supports the lab’s upkeep, but also provides compelling evidence for funding applications, ensuring the lab’s continual improvement. When appointing a point person, IT admins, and Educational Technology Departments are excellent resources to consider. Their expertise and familiarity with technology align perfectly with the lab’s needs. With training and certification courses, they can enhance their understanding of the lab’s technology to ensure it is user-friendly for all.
Launching the Lab
Once the point person is in place, they should prepare for the lab’s launch. This starts with creating a well-structured class schedule that seamlessly integrates STEAM lessons into the curriculum, offering opportunities for exploration and experimentation. After defining the curriculum, it’s crucial to build awareness for the lab within the local community. A ribbon-cutting ceremony can attract leaders, decision-makers, and media to celebrate the lab’s opening. Likewise, open house and back-to-school nights offer great opportunities to showcase the lab through information sessions, parent-technology workshops, and tours.
By organizing such events with various stakeholders, I brought communities together to witness the innovative potential of STEAM labs. Organizing an innovation lab experience day presents another excellent opportunity to introduce the lab’s potential to the community. These events promote creativity, hands-on learning, and exploration of STEAM disciplines, generating curiosity and support for the lab’s growth and success. By giving students, parents, and staff firsthand experience of the lab’s technology, a collective sense of ownership and excitement over the space is fostered within the local community.
Maintaining the Lab and Evaluating Success
Once the lab has been launched, the focus shifts towards maintaining and evaluating its continued success. Ensuring the lab’s maintenance requires carefully managing its expenditures, setting a budget for consumables, and maintaining a well-stocked inventory throughout the year. Equally important is ensuring the security of the space and implementing a clear booking system to maximize lab usage and accessibility. Student success in the lab is measured by their learning outcomes, engagement, satisfaction, and real-world application of acquired knowledge. This includes earning certifications for improved career prospects, exploring diverse career pathways, and participating in Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses. To reduce achievement gaps, take an equitable approach the running the lab, ensuring equal access to lab resources for all students.
You can evaluate Instructors’ success in the lab by measuring their experience and confidence in using the latest technology for teaching. Working with content specialists helps evaluate their proficiency with the lab’s equipment, promoting continuous growth and improvement. This collaboration allows for the development of an action plan for more effective teaching practices. The lab’s versatility as a training space allows for professional development sessions and one-on-one coaching for educators. By using the lab as a media studio, instructional content can be created for blended professional development and project-based learning. Additionally, the lab can be used to develop training courses, the quality of which can be evaluated against educational standards. Evaluating the lab’s success for professional development therefore involves assessing the impact of training on teaching methods and classroom engagement.
In conclusion, STEAM labs prepare students for success in the modern world. As a contributor to the development of STEAM labs, I want to emphasize the significance of having dedicated staff to maximize the use of these spaces. Staff members’ expertise enables them to effectively support and facilitate students’ exploration and learning in the STEAM lab. When students are provided with the opportunity, time, and dedicated space to explore the technology that shapes their world, they can make significant strides in their learning and development.
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Alvaro Brito is a leader in empowering teachers with 21st-century teaching skills. Serving as a STEAM Administrator at Compton Unified School District, he applies his 10+ years of teaching, site coordination, and administrative experience to oversee district Innovation Labs, FIRST LEGO Robotics programs, and STEAM events. Committed to equity and social justice, he earned the Compton Unified Teacher of the Year Award for the 2020-2021 school year
for his distance/remote teaching and innovation leadership.