English Teachers: How You Can Use STEAM in Your Classroom

English Teachers: How You Can Use STEAM in Your Classroom
Jennifer Gunn October 4, 2018

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The advent and expansion of STEAM doesn’t mean a movement away from language arts. On the contrary, scientists, engineers, technologists, artists, and mathematicians all need literacy skills, an appreciation and understanding of the human experience, and strong writing abilities. English language arts doesn’t sit apart from STEAM. In fact, the two fit nicely together, building upon and reinforcing the combined skills and content of each. So how exactly do you incorporate STEAM into your class? Here’s how to get started.

Informational reading

The K-12 Common Core anchor standards for reading state that students should “read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.” Therefore, the ELA classroom is the perfect place to incorporate STEAM-themed nonfiction, so that students can improve upon skills like analysis, comprehension, and questioning. Newsela has tons of awesome STEAM-centered articles that can be leveled by Lexile with a click of your mouse, and the site also includes quizzes, vocabulary, and writing prompts for each article.

Identifying and evaluating arguments

The CCLS for English Language Arts also says that students should be able to “delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.” Sure sounds a lot like what scientists do! Science is about creating hypotheses, conducting experiments, and drawing conclusions.

In ELA, students can become adept at identifying and evaluating arguments in STEAM-themed, literary or informational texts. They can also learn to write up a thesis or hypothesis, find evidence and write research papers for their science, engineering, or math experiments. Check out this step-by-step guide for argumentative writing from Cult of Pedagogy’s Jennifer Gonzalez.

Using technology

Technology is another component of the CCLS for English Language Arts: “Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.” The ELA classroom is an ideal place for students to learn to do online research, contact sources via social media or email, compile information, read, write, edit, and publish their work.

In an interdisciplinary project with a science class, for example, students can conduct experiments in their science class and work on crafting their research papers in ELA. Skills like writing annotated bibliographies, abstracts, and conclusions fit well in an ELA class. Stanford University created this handy visual to understand how STEAM subject skills can overlap.

Project-Based Learning

An impactful way to incorporate STEAM in the ELA classroom is through project-based learning. Let’s say students are reading a book or story in class. One teacher tasked students with designing a tiny house for a book character. “After reading some informational texts on the environmental benefits of tiny houses (science), researching tiny houses (technology), and evaluating character traits, my students designed a tiny house to fit the needs of a character in the novel we were reading,” says teacher Ashley Bible on her blog Building Book Love. “They used Floorplanner.com to design their houses (engineering) while calculating square footage so as not go over the 500 sq ft mark (math). I can not tell you how much my students loved this project. They really got into the design symbolism for the character and especially enjoyed seeing their designs come to life in 3D.” Check out more of Bible’s STEAM in ELA projects.

Carrie Siegmund has her students engage in Novel Engineering. Students read a book, identify problems that characters face, and brainstorm to create solutions. Check out the novel engineering projects her students designed while reading The Odyssey.

Other ideas to incorporate STEAM in the ELA classroom include Engineering Design Notebooks, shared by Science Buddies, where students reflect and keep journals of their engineering and design work.

Just like professionals in the STEAM fields, students can present their work to peers or the outside community, receive feedback, and iterate. In “Focus on Audience for Better PBL Results,” educator Suzie Boss shares how profound an experience presenting work can be for students.

Also, check out Vicki Davis’s roundup of teacher Candace Hisey’s STEAM in ELA ideas, including bringing in nonfiction research like The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Love, Madness and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean.

The benefits of STEAM in ELA

Enhancing your curriculum with some engaging STEAM activities and projects can benefit students in a variety of ways, from increasing critical thinking skills to giving them hands-on, real-world learning experiences in your classroom. Pairing STEAM with ELA can also appeal to a variety of learners, from reluctant readers to those with literacy difficulties or disabilities who may be more eager to participate when they’re able to learn ELA concepts through science, technology, engineering, art, and math. And the more you embed STEAM into your curriculum, the more you’ll find that the possibilities are endless.

Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, a teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.

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