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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Bella Vista STEAM Fridays sparks imagination, critical thinking and creativity

Dec 01, 2023 09:08AM ● By Julie Slama

Fourth-graders Malia Stanworth, Roselyn Tayborn and London Perry explore snap circuits during a Bella Vista STEAM Friday rotation. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Kindergartner Evelyn Robinson was folding her 6-inch by 6-inch bright orange paper over and over, trying to master turning it into an origami cat face. She had already made an origami dog.

“Folding the paper is the best thing,” she said. “Folding the paper is the hardest thing too.”

She and her classmates were learning the skill from first-grade teacher Laura Rasmussen as part of Bella Vista’s STEAM Fridays, where each week, students’ imaginations spark exploration and creativity as they learn engineering and design principles. 

With the help of first-grade aide Alisha Betenson, kindergartners not only were exploring the arts aspect of STEAM as they reviewed their shapes, folding triangles to make a paper cat, but they also were getting hands-on experience in the engineering process while being creative.

“They’re learning when it may not be folded right the first time, to look at it and see where they might be able to fold it differently and to try again,” she said. “This is inspiring creativity as well. Last Friday, we let them take a piece of paper and asked them to show us what they could create.”

Each week, students look forward to learning and experiencing more in their STEAM rotations. As a class, they rotate each week to a teacher who is instructing them on a STEAM subject for five weeks. After five weeks, they rotate to another teacher and will continue to explore subjects with teachers for most of the school year.

“My own daughter woke up and was excited to go to her rotation to learn how about laws of motion,” Betenson said.

The idea behind STEAM Fridays is to teach that curriculum to all students, said first-year principal, Angi Holden.

“The previous principal (Eric Gardner) and faculty last year looked at student achievement scores and saw science was an area they wanted to put some focus toward, and they really liked the idea of STEAM Fridays,” she said. “We connected our instruction to the science standards, and teachers are tweaking lessons to deliver instruction as we go. We want all our students to have a good foundation.”

With funding provided by the school community council and a strategic STEAM plan in place, Holden took the position to roll out the program as well as provide enriching STEAM opportunities afterschool to students. 

“Our goal is focusing on STEAM so we can develop our students to be 21st-century digital learners and be prepared for the workforce beyond academics,” Holden said, adding that a schoolwide STEAM night is being planned for February. “We’re wanting to become a STEM-designated school from the state, and hope this focus is something students and parents will be excited about and will choose Bella Vista as their school.”

With about 220 students at Bella Vista, students will get lots of hands-on opportunities and instruction from faculty, she said.

As a graduate of Granger High and Utah State University, Holden came to the school with a background and experience in special education, English-language arts and instructional coaching at the school district level. 

“I’ve learned developing relationships with the staff, the students, the parents, the community is key,” she said. “I love this community and want to provide equity for students. That’s what I love about STEAM. Our world is based in science and technology. By incorporating STEAM into our teaching, we’re equalizing the playing field in skills that are a great balance with their education.”

During STEAM Friday, students in another classroom were learning about animal adaptation.

“I like that the students are getting exposure to an array of subjects from different teachers and that as a teacher, I’m able to create a really good lesson on a subject,” fifth-grade teacher Kim Aposhian said.

Third-grade teacher Wendie Nielson set up a magnetic lab in her classroom.

“They’re learning about magnetic attraction, magnetic repulsion, how to move how to get something to move down the track, how to engineer it so it can move faster,” she said, adding the students also incorporate literacy as they read books about magnets. “It’s fun for them to be engaged in the subject and for faculty, it’s great to interact and teach students beyond your classroom. It really builds community.”

Fifth-graders Eli McNamer and Elise Brady had just finished their second magnetism rotation.

“We had magnets and different items like paperclips, and we could test what attracts and doesn’t,” Eli said. “I like you actually get to try things and do experiments.”

Elise said before they tested the magnetism, they made predictions.

“It’s fun because once we understand the concept, we get to determine what we’re doing and see it for ourselves, not having someone help you do it a certain way,” she said.

In another classroom, students were learning about snap circuits. 

Fourth-grade teacher Lauren Robinson said that through learning about circuits, students will have the opportunity to make their own Harry Potter wands and understand how they work. It’s a project she’s had in her files for years and through STEAM Fridays, she was able to develop it into her curriculum.

“It’s exciting to do something different; it breathes life into school,” she said. “I’ve always liked STEM myself, so it was nice to have that freedom to choose what I wanted to teach. I like this because we talk a lot about the engineering design process — designing a solution to a problem and then creating a prototype. Sometimes when we built it, it doesn’t work. So, they’re using lots of problem-solving and critical thinking skills as they try again. It’s teaching perseverance.”

Students were learning about circuits on the computer virtually before experimenting hands-on.

“It’s really fun to try out different things on Fridays,” said fourth-grader Roselyn Tayborn as she looked at a computer simulation. “I really like using the computer to test the battery and wires.”

She was partnered with her classmates, London Perry and Malia Stanworth, as they tried firsthand to build circuits.

“I like learning new things; I haven’t learned about circuits before,” London said.

Malia, who either wants to pursue a career in chemistry or in a beauty salon, said she has appreciated doing fun science activities on Fridays.

“I’m learning by doing and I like that,” she said. “In a different classroom, we made solar ovens then, we tried them by heating up s’mores — and it worked. That’s the best part – figuring out how to make something and having it work.” λ