Episode #34 – Step Into STEAM: An Interview With Sarah Bush
This week we chat with Sarah Bush, an Associate Professor of K-12 STEM Education University of Central, she’s on the Board of Directors for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and she’s co-authored the book Step Into STEAM. We sat down with sarah to get the inside scoop on what steam is, how it looks in real classrooms, why we should be considering this approach and how we can get started.
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Sarah Bush: We just need to use every math moment we have very carefully. We don’t want to miss opportunities. When I think about, if I’m an elementary teacher and I have a block of time for math and hopefully I have a block of time for science, I can think about how I can use that collective time most meaningfully.
Sarah Bush: Sometimes, that should be doing things that are very authentic and contextual in nature. A vehicle through which to do those sorts of very meaningful rich inquiries is through STEAM. Because really science, the way we explore science and the way we make sense of science and what’s happening in science is often through the mathematics.
Sarah Bush: So often I think sometimes we might get stuck in thinking about just what happens in the mathematics block. But I think we have to think beyond that. So many schools now have STEM or STEAM labs-
Jon Orr: This is Sarah Bush an associate professor of K to 12 STEM education from the University of Central Florida. She’s on the board of directors for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and she’s coauthored the book Step Into STEAM. We sat down with Sarah to get the inside scoop on what STEAM is, how it looks in real classrooms, why we should be considering this approach and how we can get started.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the making math moments that matter podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce from tapintoteenminds.com
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr, from mrorr-isageek.com. We are two math teachers who together.
Kyle Pearce: With you the community of educators worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark engagement.
Jon Orr: Fuel learning.
Kyle Pearce: And ignite teacher action. Are you ready for this jam packed episode, Jon?
Jon Orr: Of course. Of course, I am.
Kyle Pearce: Well, hey, before we get there, did you know that we read every reflection left on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. As well as each and every review left on iTunes? Just like this tweet from Michael Rubin on Twitter where he said to checkout @MakeMathMoments, @MathletePearce and @MrOrr_geek, they’re all about sparking curiosity and fueling sense-making. That was in response to some tweets about people looking for interesting folks to follow in the math space.
Jon Orr: If you’re loving the podcast, be sure to give @MikeRubin84 a follow on Twitter.
Kyle Pearce: Before we dive into the episode, we want to make sure you’re aware of the Math Moments with Corwin Mathematics book giveaway. That’s right, we’ll be giving away 10 books from Corwin Mathematics, including Sarah’s book, Step Into STEAM. Plus you’ll receive special Corwin discounts and digital downloads just for entering the draw. You can get in on the giveaway by visiting makemathmoments.com/giveaway by Wednesday, July 31st, 2019.
Jon Orr: Are you’re listening to this after July 31st, 2019? No sweat, we are always actively running giveaways, so check out makemathmoments.com/giveaway by the Wednesday, July 31st to get in on this giveaway. Or, if you’ve already missed it, no worries. Check out that same link and learn about the current giveaway we have running.
Kyle Pearce: All right, so don’t miss out, dive in @makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Jon Orr: That’s makemathmoments.com/giveaway. Without further ado, here is our chat with Sarah Bush.
Kyle Pearce: Hey there, Sarah. Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. We’re so excited to have you on the show today. How are you doing over there on your end?
Sarah Bush: Well, hello. I’m so glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me and I’m doing really great. It’s summer time and I’m in Florida and life is good.
Kyle Pearce: Beautiful. What part of Florida are you in?
Sarah Bush: I live in the Orlando, Florida area, so Central Florida, about an hour from the beach if I want to go, so it’s pretty great.
Kyle Pearce: Very cool. My parents actually have a snowbird place down in Port St. Lucie, which is a little South East of you, I would think. Then Jon, you’ve got in-laws down there.
Jon Orr: Yeah, we make our way there every March in Lakeland, which is about an hour ish from you who I would assume. We always kind of venture into Orlando for a little bit too when we’re there.
Kyle Pearce: Spring training with the tigers.
Jon Orr: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I have never seen a baseball game there even though we go every single year.
Kyle Pearce: Oh, you disappoint me.
Jon Orr: Yeah, I know I disappoint you, but I like sitting by the pool, watch the kids swim, we always also make our way over to St. Pete’s beach for a couple days and I love the beach. So that’s my thing. Baseball is not my thing. Basketball, however, that’s my thing.
Kyle Pearce: Nice.
Jon Orr: Yeah. Sarah, can you fill us in a little bit about yourself just for our listeners and what inspired you on to become a math educator and puts you on this journey? Could you just fill us in a little bit about your background?
Sarah Bush: Sure, when I think about really why I became a math educator, I kind of think back to my own time as a middle and high school student. I think I probably really didn’t know what many adults did in their careers. When I was in middle school, I got the idea that I actually wanted to be a school counselor. I think I had that idea because people said I was good at helping and giving advice, things like that.
Sarah Bush: I learned that the most often the path to becoming a school counselor was to first become a classroom teacher. I loved math and so I thought it would just make sense that on my way to becoming a counselor I would just become a math teacher. Somewhere between middle school and the end of college I just decided to stick with teaching math. I really liked it.
Kyle Pearce: Very cool. That’s awesome. I actually have our quals, I don’t know how it works down in Florida, but here in Ontario you take some additional qualifications to become a guidance counselor, which would probably be a very similar role to what you described and I thought that maybe that would be where I would be heading as well. I, just like you fell in love with the math classrooms, so it really cool. Really cool.
Kyle Pearce: I’m wondering, do you mind sharing with the audience what is a memorable math moment? You know this is coming if you’ve heard any of our previous episodes. What might be something you think about when you think about math class? What pops into your mind? Go ahead and share that with everybody out there.
Sarah Bush: I had really nice teachers when I was in school, but I think my most memorable math experiences really occurred outside of the math classroom. Neither of my parents were, they weren’t STEM professionals, but they were both, they are both very mathematically minded. So throughout my childhood, at both my mom’s house and at my dad’s house, I was always encouraged to think mathematically. I think my mom told me once that I figured out how to read an analog clock before I was three years old.
Sarah Bush: I was also obsessed with counting a number of patterns. I remember before I would go to sleep at night as a little kid, my mom would tell me to count to help me fall asleep. But I would always make up these games by myself where I would challenge myself to skip count or count to numbers really high. I remember one time telling my mom I counted to about 5,000 although who knows if I did that correctly.
Kyle Pearce: Well, if you were skip counting by thousands, maybe.
Sarah Bush: Well, that’s true.
Kyle Pearce: [crosstalk 00:08:00] really fast.
Sarah Bush: It was probably something clever like that. But then when I was about 10, I had a new mathematical experience. My dad became the owner of a little local gas station when I was about 10. My sister and I started to go to work with him on lots of days in the summer. We’d wake up at 4:00 AM we would get ready and when you go to work with him and he was not playing around.
Sarah Bush: We were there to work. So every moment was really a learning opportunity. When I was about 11 I learned to run the cash register, but my dad would not let me press the button. That would tell you how much change to give back to the customer.
Kyle Pearce: Oh I love that.
Jon Orr: That’s my guy.
Sarah Bush: Yes. For example, if someone’s purchases total $6 and 28 cents and they gave me a 20, I had to figure out the difference by counting up. I’d have to 72 cents from the register to make seven, and then three ones to make 10, and then 10 to make 20. Then I was required to count that back to the customer in that same fashion. I mean, I don’t think other kids really had to do that.
Sarah Bush: Then I really had kind of memorized every post tax total for every pretax possibility. The other thing I had to do all the time, was I had to calculate markups and discounts on stock day. So I would end up challenging myself to figure it out mentally and then just verify whether it was right in the cash register before I put the price tag on.
Sarah Bush: But I was just constantly, had these mathematically minded challenges that were very focused on number sense. So really to me it was my out of school mathematics moments that were empowering, meaningful and really served a purpose.
Kyle Pearce: Great, great. I can definitely hear that. Actually you’re reminding me a lot of, going back to the counting before bed, if you heard the Dan Finkel episode, he had mentioned that, that was sort of how he remembers himself growing up is that kid in the backseat of the car and thinking about patterns and just playing around with it.
Kyle Pearce: Just thinking about all these, we’ll call them like built in challenges that your dad had had you accustomed to doing. Those are the types of things that we tend to try to provide parents with when we try to build that homeschool connection, right? Trying to give parents opportunities, “Hey, when you’re cooking and you’re going to be mixing this much flour and this much sugar,” and to get the kids in there and just to challenge them.
Kyle Pearce: Let’s not worry so much about whether they get it right or wrong or the speed or anything like that. Let’s just get them familiar. You reminded me of what I’m trying to do. I don’t think I’m doing nearly as good a job as your dad was doing, but with my daughter, I try to, at the end of every month, I try to get her to count up a certain sum of money.
Kyle Pearce: She gets her birthday money and she gets a little allowance each week for cleaning a room and so on and so forth. I challenge her that every month she’s got a count up piles of $20, and for every pile of $20 she has, I’ll give her a dollar. Kind of building in this idea of interest. At first she used to think she had to trade in the 20 for the one and she’s like, “I don’t want to do it.” All those things.
Kyle Pearce: But, it just reminds me of what I’m trying to do for Talian, and hopefully when she looks back to her childhood, she has at least a couple of those stories like we just heard from you. So. Super cool.
Sarah Bush: Well, I love that you’re doing that because those are really some of my fondest memories. I remember the first time that my dad put me on the actual payroll and I got my first check and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I have $100 to spend.” But I didn’t, because I was quickly told by my parents that I could spend one third on what I wanted.
Sarah Bush: One third had to buy my school clothes because since I was now, a working woman I had to buy my school clothes, and one third had to go in savings. I quickly learned how fast money really goes for adults, right? I didn’t like it in the moment, but it was a great lesson.
Kyle Pearce: I’m wondering what you had to do with the last penny.
Sarah Bush: I’m sure I argued to keep that for what I wanted, but hard to remember.
Jon Orr: I was just thinking, what a wonderful way to build that mental number sense, those mental calculations at such a young age. I just reflect on myself and I didn’t have that experience. I was the person that was good at math, but I was good at book math. I was good at following the procedures in class and I went on to do math at university.
Jon Orr: I don’t think I developed good mental math skills for adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing until I was a math teacher. And even it was years after I was a math teacher. I was the kid in calculus still counting on my fingers when I had to subtract things or going right to my calculator. I didn’t have those mental skills.
Jon Orr: It was my dad would always be like, “What are you doing?” And I was just like, “Well this is what I feel like I have to do here to answer this simple subtraction problem.” It wasn’t until years later that I started to just do these simple adding up like you suggested in my head quicker and go to benchmarks to start to multiply or add.
Jon Orr: I’m just reflecting on you as a teacher, knowing those skills early in your career and how you could help your students with those number sense skills early on. Whereas I had never even thought to even suggest those to my students because I didn’t even think of them.
Sarah Bush: Well that is interesting. I think that, well I think we all probably regret lots of things we did our first few years of teaching. But you reminded me of a pivotal moment I had that was maybe during my second or third year of teaching. I remember one day, it was in between class periods. I taught middle school, so all the kids were moving to the next class and it was crazy
Sarah Bush: I remember I saw my principal in the hallway and he said something about one of the students in my class, their mom or dad had called him and was basically saying how glad they were that their daughter was in my math class because I made it so easy for her. I know he meant that as a compliment. I think what they meant partially was, I explained it in a way, but then they made realize that, “Oh my gosh, I was helping way too much.”
Sarah Bush: I don’t want it to seem easy, right, at all. We weren’t thinking universally, or at least I wasn’t about terms like productive struggle and things like that. But I had this moment where I thought, “That’s not what I wanted to accomplish.” That was an important for me as a newer teacher.
Kyle Pearce: That actually reminds me early in my career, I thought the name of the game of being a good teacher was to try to make it as easy as possible. And boy was I wrong. I was able to help students feel successful, but I don’t think they experienced the same success that you just described where from your experience when you were younger and building that fluency and just that ability to take situations and work with them.
Kyle Pearce: I think we all tend to fall into that trap and instead of really finding the beauty of the math and really finding the enjoyment in the struggle, we tend to sort of try to strip that struggle away. While that might be helpful for inflating grades, I don’t know how helpful that is for the long run, right, and for students walking away feeling like they’ve benefited other than just not feeling like they couldn’t do the math. I mean there is some benefit there, but I think aiming for that struggle is so huge.
Jon Orr: Sarah, I think if you know us, we could talk about this topic all night. I think we should switch gears right now and we know you have some expertise in the area of STEAM. As we are lucky enough to get our hands on your book, you co-wrote with Kristin Cook called, Step Into STEAM and we’d love to know more about it. I know I would, the term has always intrigued me. Can you fill us in our listeners in what is STEAM?
Sarah Bush: Well, I mean just as with STEM, we know what the letters in the acronym represent, but really they’re various interpretations. My colleague Kristin Cook, who you mentioned is the other author on the book. She is one of my dearest colleagues and she’s a science educator and we do this work together. She’s my partner in crime and my dear friend.
Sarah Bush: Our view of STEAM education, is really a deeper authentic dive into the mathematics and science content and practices, with meaningful and natural integration of engineering components to arts and technology. If we’re thinking about mathematics, it’s really about using mathematics to make sense of the world.
Sarah Bush: It’s kind of about positioning disciplinary core ideas, including, definitely including those in mathematics to weigh options, make tough decisions, examine patterns, make predictions. STEAM should not be about grabbing a book on the shelf that has hundreds of little 30 minutes STEAM activities. It’s definitely not about fluff and frills.
Sarah Bush: STEAM should really be about taking your existing curriculum and standards and creatively weaving it together to create transformative learning experiences for students where they embark on solving problems in their school, and their community and beyond to make the world a better place. STEAM should really be inspiring, empowering and it’s hard work.
Kyle Pearce: I’m wondering if I’m sitting at home and I’m going, “Okay, so I’ve heard about and I’m liking what I’m hearing. I really like this idea of weaving standards together.” One huge benefit there that if people aren’t already having this epiphany at home, I hope that they’ll hear it through this message is the idea that we’re constantly as teachers feeling like we’re stretched for time. We don’t have enough time to do everything.
Kyle Pearce: But, what you’re suggesting is that rather than doing this standard over here and this standard over there and committing sections of time in the day, especially for our elementary friends who have their students all day long. You’re saying that we can actually hit more than one bird with one stone and we could actually do this by sort of building in a cross curricular components.
Kyle Pearce: I’m wondering are you picturing your classroom day and your book in particular focuses in on K through five, but I’m sure that many of these ideas can apply in older grades. Are you suggesting that the blocks of the day look different? Is it kind of breaking down the walls between it’s math class now, it’s science class now, it’s art class now? What might that look like or sound like to you as you see it anyway?
Sarah Bush: That’s a really good question. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer. I think with our work in many different schools, and especially if you’re starting to think about middle and high schools where teachers are specialized instead of usually more generalists, I don’t think there’s a one size fits all.
Sarah Bush: I think that you have to do what makes sense. But what I think is important is the idea that really in today’s world, while core instruction in mathematics is absolutely essential, it’s probably not sufficient. The world itself is not siloed. It’s really that in my mind, and the bigger group I work in, we as we think about it as a vehicle for a more humanistic and holistic approach to learning.
Sarah Bush: Through STEAM we can foster students who really become adults who are passionate, have empathy for others and are good citizens. It’s really a way to get at the mathematics as well as science and other disciplines really deeply and meaningfully while also fostering important attributes such as collaboration, communication and creativity.
Sarah Bush: I think if you’re thinking more in a elementary setting where a teacher is working in maybe blocks of time, I think the key is just a little more flexibility and doing what makes sense. But you’re absolutely right, it shouldn’t be thought of as I got to do this whole extra thing. It should be thought of as kind of a shift in how to do what we already should be doing.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, I tend to agree with you as well and I definitely do not have a huge amount of expertise in the STEAM area myself. Being that I came from secondary and in secondary, and I would love to see more of this and we are shifting. We’re seeing shifts in secondary as well, where we’re trying to find ways where we’re doing cross-curricular things across departments.
Kyle Pearce: I would say it’s still like the early goings, some of it’s structural, right? In terms of how the scheduling and that you’re moving from class to class and so on and so forth. So there’s a little more flexibility in elementary. But the one thing that I wonder, and I don’t know if you have a thought on this and you sort of alluded to it earlier, is that we don’t want to miss out on some of the mathematics.
Kyle Pearce: We don’t want to have people, let’s say if they are staying in blocks, maybe pulling in too much other things into math where now some of the math pieces go away. I’m wondering if it’s like, as you’re doing your math block, how do you bring out these other ideas rather than it being like replacing it.
Kyle Pearce: I think you sort of alluded to that and I really like that approach that really it’s not an add-on. It’s about trying to, I’m thinking almost like an awareness of these other areas and how they all kind of interconnect. Just like mathematics does interconnect, like all the concepts connect and we can do this across subjects as well as sort of what I’m hearing.
Sarah Bush: Yeah, absolutely. One thing I keep going back to is the idea that, we just need to use every math moment we have very carefully. We don’t want to miss opportunities. So when I think about if I’m an elementary teacher and I have a block of time for math, and hopefully I have a block of time for science, I can think about how I can use that collective time most meaningfully.
Sarah Bush: Sometimes, that should be doing things that are very authentic and contextual in nature. A vehicle through which to do those sorts of very meaningful, rich inquiries is through STEAM. Because really science, the way we explore science, and the way we make sense of science and what’s happening in science is often through the mathematics.
Sarah Bush: So often I think sometimes we might get stuck in thinking about just what happens in the mathematics block. But I think we have to think beyond that. So many schools now have STEM or STEAM labs, but are we missing mathematics learning opportunities in those because we’re not fully embedded in that work.
Sarah Bush: I would hate to see great conceptual learning happening in a mass block and then students going to a STEM or STEAM lab and great learning happening, but math connections and opportunities are missed. I think as a MathEd community where the MathEd experts collectively as a community. No one else is better equipped to do the math part of STEAM right. That’s our job and so we got to make sure that’s happening.
Jon Orr: It’s so true because when I consult with science teachers in high school about what is being taught in grade nine math, versus grade nine science, there’s sometimes a disconnect on what that teacher’s doing for the math content, what they need in science, versus what we’re doing in math class. I’d love to see more of that overlap.
Jon Orr: In my school, a couple years ago, one thing that we did I guess for one year, which didn’t continue just because of funding was we have the thing called lesson study in our school where we co-planned lessons together. One particular year we had cross-curricular co-planning. We had a science teacher, a history teacher, geography teacher and math teacher, all planning lessons for math and then whole planning lessons for science.
Jon Orr: It was quite eyeopening. It was the first experience that I had seeing that cross-curricular, what was going on in science versus what was math and it was great to collaborate on that level. Because I think it has to happen more because I don’t think in Ontario, here our curriculum melds that way. It doesn’t meld together in grade nine the two curriculums as nicely as I’d like to see in the future. But definitely we’d want more of that going on in high school like it can be in elementary school for sure.
Sarah Bush: Yeah, I agree. All the work we’ve done. When I think about it applying and middle and high school, it just looks a little different because students go from class period to class period. But the fundamentals of how the planning and implementation would happen, and how the disciplines interconnect is all the same. I love that you had that experience. That sounds really cool.
Kyle Pearce: It’s interesting too because what I’ve noticed when I do have opportunities, like Jon’s mentioned to look at different subject areas and really start to compare and contrast the curriculum in let’s say grade nine where, I look at science and math and you start to see how they do compliment each other. But unfortunately the documents are typically siloed into subject areas, right?
Kyle Pearce: Further so within the documents, oftentimes siloed by concept. It makes it so difficult to see those connections on our… when we had Jo Boaler on, she had mentioned that when we write curriculum, we do it in a way where we silo it so that it’s manageable for the teacher to consume. But by doing so and by making it in these little bite sized chunks, we miss all of those connections.
Kyle Pearce: You can imagine if that’s happening within one course like mathematics, how much more work and I guess how much more we have to pay attention when we look at different curriculums from different subject areas to see that there are those connections there, we just have to start opening our eyes to it.
Sarah Bush: I think that’s a really interesting point. That’s part of the important work that has to be done when we implement STEAM is really thinking through and really allowing teachers a little more autonomy with what’s being taught each day. I think when there’s a little more flexibility, that’s when some of the magic can happen.
Jon Orr: This is fantastic. Let’s dive a bit deeper on this. Imagine I’m a teacher and I just learned that STEAM represents science, technology, engineering, arts and math and I’m wondering what does this look like? Do you mind sharing like an example, like an in class example, maybe one from your book, maybe one of your favorites or even a for us newbies, just learning about this for the first time.
Sarah Bush: You’d like an example of a actual inquiry in the math and science [crosstalk 00:27:23]?
Jon Orr: Yeah.
Sarah Bush: Okay.
Jon Orr: What would it look like in a classroom? You can pick a grade level. I’m just imagining so that we can get a picture of what this would look like in a real room.
Sarah Bush: One of my favorite examples, which really happened, was at one of the local school districts, there was a kindergartner that arrived to school, who was born without a lower arm and hand. The teacher approached a STEAM lab teacher at a neighboring school and asked if the STEAM lab teacher would like to engage their students in an inquiry to develop a solution to the problem.
Sarah Bush: Which was that this kindergartner cannot press control, alt, delete to log onto the school computer. How desktops, still do their control, alt, delete to do your login. Anyways, the STEAM lab teacher was like, “Sure, that’s a great inquiry. It’s authentic, it’s happening in our community.” The STEAM lab teacher approached a class of fourth grade students, his class of fourth grade students and said, “Here’s what’s happening in our community was a kindergartner and she needs our help. Would you all want to help design a solution?”
Sarah Bush: The students were, I mean, so excited, right? Because naturally kids want to help. They embarked on a journey where they engaged, actually they engaged in the design thinking process, which is kind of like the engineering design. We use the design thinking in our work, which is based out of the d.school at Stanford. The design thinking begins with developing empathy for the person or situation of need.
Sarah Bush: This teacher started by engaging the students in a field trip around the school to see if they could do everything they needed to do with only one arm. They found that they couldn’t do all kinds of stuff, like open heavy doors, use certain faucets, all kinds, carry their lunch tray, all those sorts of things. The students became so passionate about solving this problem because they realized how hard it must be.
Sarah Bush: Anyways, they engaged in research on the skeletal system and muscular system and then the STEAM lab teacher told the students, he told the students the girl’s height, but did not tell them how long her other lower arm and hand was. They had to use proportional reasoning to estimate how long her lower arm and hand would be. Because they knew they need to design some tool that would be proportional to her body.
Sarah Bush: They ended up using their height to arm ratio to figure out this kindergartners. Because they knew the kindergartner was smaller than they were as fourth graders. They engaged in this great proportional reasoning, they did all kinds of stuff with measurement conversion because what they ended up doing was they decided they needed to create a 3D printed prosthetic.
Sarah Bush: In order to do that, they first made physical prototypes and then they created like a blueprint of something they would eventually use Tinkercad design software to then fabricate on the 3D printers. They were working in inches and then they use Tinkercad, which was programed to first show up a millimeters.
Sarah Bush: They were engaged in all of this great mathematics about proportional reasoning, and measurement conversion, and the size of units. They were using math to make sense of this problem, and they had to get it right. They had to develop something that was actually functional. They ended up after engaging in all the science and math and of course the engineering.
Sarah Bush: The arts component was the aesthetics and the design, because obviously they wanted to give the kindergartner something that looked good. Then of course the technology with the 3D printer and the design software. Anyways, they actually ended up, after several prototypes ended up creating a 3D printed lower arm enhance for the student.
Sarah Bush: It was just an amazing inquiring. That’s one of my favorites to share because I think people can visualize what was happening and the power of that. But when I think about a STEAM inquiry and what that looks like in general, we always like to say students are engaged, but it’s more than that. Students, when they’re doing a transformative STEAM inquiry, they have this laser focus because there’s this complete buy-in, they’re passionate and they become really compelled to develop a solution.
Sarah Bush: It looks like students having serious discussion in small groups about the math and science content practices. Kind of within the context of that authentic inquiry. You would see groups maybe asking the teacher for a mini conference. Then you would see the teacher or teachers have intentionally planned purposeful questions to push students thinking, but they aren’t telling students what to do.
Sarah Bush: I think a big thing is it’s about the process, not just the product or solution. Just like in mathematics task, with the mathematics task, we need to make it about the whole process, right? Not just the answer. The same is really true for STEAM. When STEAM’s done well, another teacher or adult should be able to walk into that classroom and ask students what concepts they’re learning, and how it relates to that context.
Sarah Bush: Students should be able to answer the question using key ideas of math and science. Another thing is, there’s really this shared authority in the classroom. Often the biggest challenge is getting students to leave at the end of class. I mean it’s true, they get so excited. But really the most important thing I really want to say is, it’s something that should be for each and every student. Because STEAM is an opportunity, a golden opportunity for us to build off students’ strengths and let students shine. So each and every student should have access to that.
Kyle Pearce: Wow. Sarah, there are so many big ideas to unpack there in what you just said. I was actually crossing my fingers on my end here trying to remind myself., this is one of my mom’s tricks she’s used to do when she wanted to say something when people were talking she would cross her finger so she wouldn’t forget. I’ve got all my fingers taken up here and I’m working on the toes.
Kyle Pearce: One of the big things that just sort of hit me near the end of what you were just sharing is just this idea of with students not wanting to leave. I mean how amazing is that, but then when we really unpack it and we start to think about purpose and we think about really trying to help students feel like they have a purpose in the world and through education. What better way than get kids passionate about something.
Kyle Pearce: Through this inquiry that you just shared about, in your book you called it the prosthetic inquiry. I actually had it tabbed in the book because you know I was going to ask you a question about it later and I’m so happy that you selected this one for an example because I thought it was so great. The piece that I noticed in a lot of these STEM activities was how often we can make connections to… I said STEM, I should say STEAM activities.
Kyle Pearce: How often we make connections to the proportional reasoning that exists because it’s everywhere, right? I think about like an art class, and thinking about just generally art forms and what is appealing, when you look at art that is appealing and the proportional nature and the scaling. All of these things that are going on, there’s so much mathematics there that you can unpack.
Kyle Pearce: What I heard from you, is that this STEAM idea is really trying to make connections across all of these essentially cross disciplinarian or across disciplinary areas in cross-curricular areas. I’m wondering to myself, some might be out there wondering like, “Okay, well it sounds like project-based learning.” I’m wondering, there’s so many different ways, and so many different definitions for ideas out there.
Kyle Pearce: Do you see a difference and if so are they similar or are they different to you or maybe is there a slight nuance or I’m just wondering of your perspective. If you look at STEAM and project-based learning as maybe having some sort of intersection there.
Sarah Bush: I think they definitely have an intersection. I know in our work we focus more on problem-based learning, which definitely has similarities with project-based learning. But really our STEAM work is, we really think of it as being grounded in both the design thinking framework and in problem-based learning.
Sarah Bush: Problem-based learning is so foundationally grounded in really the entire process of working through an inquiry or problem. I think that that’s the key takeaway. I think there’s there’s quite a bit of overlap with the two. We talk about it as STEAM just thinking about it from the content lens, right? Schools approach things through a content lens. So we think about STEAM as really a way to deeper dive into the mathematics and science content practices in a authentic interdisciplinary way.
Jon Orr: I am now thinking, I’m going to go back to the on along the lines of I’m that new teacher, because I think you’ve given me a good snapshot of what this looks like in a classroom of what can it look like in a classroom. But now I’m wondering I want to dive in, what are some first steps? You’ve got some teachers who are like, “I want to try but I’m not sure how much work this is going to be.”
Jon Orr: I’d love to be like, what’s the quick win, what’s a quick thing you can tell a teacher to be like, “Try this. This is your gateway into learning more.” Because we know that it’s a tunnel, right? It’s like what can we start, and then when they start this thing or this tip, it leads into so many other things and then they’re off.
Jon Orr: What would be in your opinion, what is that first step to getting a teacher to learn more about this and how they can scratch the surface to kind of like dig deeper to make this happen in their classroom?
Sarah Bush: I think that’s a question that we get asked a lot because anytime you embark on something new, it can be a little intimidating. My best advice would be to just get started, plan and implement one STEAM inquiry. Just start. We’ve developed some tools like checklists and brainstorming prompts, things like that, that can really help to get the conversation started.
Sarah Bush: The cool thing about STEAM, is it nationally helps you extend beyond the walls of your own classroom. So really it’s an opportunity to enjoy the collaboration. The other thing you just have to be okay with, is that it’s impossible to know and predict that everything that will happen during STEAM instruction.
Sarah Bush: What you just got to do is intentionally plan and get comfortable not knowing all the answers. It’s really an opportunity for us as teachers to model lifelong learning with our students, but it’s just about getting started. I think that when you’re used to doing things a certain way, then it’s safe and comfortable. It can be intimidating.
Sarah Bush: Don’t think about it as overhauling everything, just try one. Then try something that’s authentic to your context, something that’s happening in your school or community, those make the best scene inquiries.
Kyle Pearce: That’s essentially the mantra Jon and I typically use is, you know what, just get started and let’s be honest, the result might not always be perfect the first time. But until you do it that first time, it’s really difficult to start to gain some momentum. Because if you really wait to plan it and make… I mean, obviously you’re going to plan ahead of time but to plan until you feel it’s perfect, you’re never going to have that opportunity.
Jon Orr: I heard this phrase the other day and it was like, sometimes we want A plus work all the time and A plus work, and often case doesn’t actually get done. It’s like B minus work. It’s good enough. I want to get in there and try it and then I’ll work out the [inaudible 00:39:37] and grow with the punches and learn as I go.
Jon Orr: That’s what actually gets done, that’s what makes a difference in kids’ lives. It’s like that B minus work that you’re going to go, and then you work towards improving. That’s kind of the teaching role, is to get in there and try something and try something new and see how that goes and then make adjustments.
Jon Orr: That’s what you do with your students anyway. It’s like, “Let’s see how this fits for this student.” And “Oh, that lesson then, or that technique didn’t jive with that student’s understanding of what they were doing. Let’s try something else.” This is something we do on a regular basis anyway. So yeah, getting started, just jumping in is a great tip.
Kyle Pearce: Well, Sarah, I want to thank you as we’re getting close to the end here and for those who are listening and thinking about just getting started, I found that the book that both you and Kristin Cook had co-wrote together Step Into STEAM, which is kind of focused in on grades K through five. I found that, that really helped me gain a perspective of what that could look like in my classroom.
Kyle Pearce: I want to thank you on behalf of the math community for that. We’re wondering before we let you go, are there any projects that you’re currently working on that you’d like to share with the folks listening at home?
Sarah Bush: Currently we’re really focused on getting others involved in this work. Which includes current and former grad students, many of which are current teachers, other faculty members and so forth and also helping some of them figure out their own emphasis in this work that ties into their patient.
Sarah Bush: We of course are still learning ourselves, we have so much to learn. We’ve been doing the STEAM work for I would say about seven years, but we’re still learning. We have so much to learn and so we’re continuing to grow our partnerships with schools as well as with educators in informal learning context and so forth. So we’re just excited to keep working with people in STEAM and talking about it and learning more ourselves.
Jon Orr: We are definitely going to put, I think a link to your book in the show notes and Sarah is there anywhere the people listening right now can connect with you further. Like social media, do you have a webpage that you want us to give out right now to people listening, where can people find more about you?
Sarah Bush: Sure, they can find me on Twitter and my Twitter handle is @sarahbbush, S-A-R-A-H, B as in boy and then B-U-S-H.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Awesome. Well listen, Sarah, we want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us and the Making Math Moments That Matter community. We’ve been inspired by this conversation. We know that the listeners at home are going to be eager to dive or should I say step into STEAM a little bit further. Thanks so much for hanging out with us and hopefully we’ll be able to circle back with you in a little while to see where you are in your own STEAM journey.
Sarah Bush: That would be great. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed talking with both of you.
Jon Orr: Thanks so much, Sarah.
Kyle Pearce: Thanks Sarah. Have a great night. We want to thank Sarah again for spending some time with us and sharing her insights with both Jon and I and you, the Making Math Moments That Matter community.
Jon Orr: If you haven’t checked out Sarah’s book, Step Into STEAM yet, what are you waiting for? Also, Sarah’s book is actually one of the books we are giving away in the Corwin Mathematics summer book giveaway. So get your name in on at makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Kyle Pearce: As always, how will you reflect on what you’ve heard from this episode? Have you written ideas down, drawn on a sketch note, sent out a tweet, called a colleague? Be sure to engage in some form of reflection to ensure that this learning sticks.
Jon Orr: In particular. We’re going to challenge you to reflect by sharing your biggest takeaway on Instagram. Be sure to tag us @makemathmoments in your reflection.
Kyle Pearce: Don’t forget about the Math Moments with Corwin Mathematics book giveaway. That’s right, we’re giving away those 10 books from Corwin Mathematics, including Sarah’s book, Step Into STEAM. Plus you’ll receive special Corwin discounts and digital downloads just for entering the draw. So remember you’ve got until Wednesday, July 31st, 2019 to get in at makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Jon Orr: If you’re listening after July 31st don’t worry about it. Hit up that link, makemathmoments.com/giveaway and check out the new giveaway we have running there.
Kyle Pearce: Don’t miss out. Dive in at makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Jon Orr: That’s makemathmoments.com/giveaway. In order to ensure you don’t miss out on new episodes as they come out each Monday morning, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform.
Kyle Pearce: Also if you’re liking what you’re hearing, do us a huge favor and share this podcast with a colleague and help us reach a wider audience by leaving us a review on iTunes. Remember we read each and every review and we want to thank the over 25 reviews that we see on the Canadian iTunes store, plus the many in the other country iTunes stores.
Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode34. Again, that is makemathmoments.com/episode34.
Kyle Pearce: Well, until next time, I’m Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for, and high fives for you.
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