A Bridge to Innovation: Lower School STEAM at Taipei American School
By Alfredo Papaseit, Lower School Technology and Design Coach
What does innovation look like? Ask someone who has spent a little time in the lower school floor of the Solomon Wong Tech Cube, and you are likely to get a very inspiring answer. This state-of-the-art facility is part of the Lower School’s natural progression and evolution, and at its heart, it is a direct extension of our mission statement: “to inspire each student to be a confident, creative, caring, and moral individual prepared to adapt and succeed anywhere in a rapidly changing world.”
The Solomon Wong Tech Cube is not a science lab, a woodshop, a computer lab or an art room, but it contains elements found in all of these familiar spaces. Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the exploration and making process, and this is what sets this space apart from single-use spaces. One of the highlights of the year always is the upper school robotics mentoring program, where a group of students in Grades 3 and 4 are mentored by a group of upper school robotics students. The semester of robot designing and building will culminate in our first ever on-campus lower school robotics celebration. Over the course of the program, lower school technology coaches taught upper school students how to become effective mentors. These skills will not only help when working with elementary students, but will also transfer into the school year to create students who are better leaders and team members.
Since its inception, the Solomon Wong Tech Cube has offered an ideal home base for our STEAM program, which is truly about being innovative and “thinking outside the box.” We ask students to look at problems and empower them to believe that with hard work, they can find solutions to these problems. Therefore, it has been designed and equipped to accommodate a wide range of activities such as cardboard construction, prototyping, woodworking, electronics, physical computing, robotics, and digital fabrication.
Through a constructionist approach to education, our STEAM program provides a framework for students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in math, science, engineering and technology. Computer programming, making and physical computing are paving the way for endless inquiry and cross-curricular integration.
Beginning in Kindergarten, students are taught coding as a form of literacy, use fabrication tools such as laser cutters and 3D printers to bring their ideas to life, and are encouraged to think like engineers through the Engineering Design Process
As part of a science unit focusing on engineering, Grade 3 students investigate ways to improve their classroom environment. They use their understanding of the basics of circuitry, sensor technology, and programming interfaces to brainstorm ideas and create an invention for the classroom of the future. Students use defined constraints and criteria for success to test and then iterate upon their invention to improve its functionality.
In Grade 4, students take time to research the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and choose one goal to focus on. Students consider possible innovations, inventions, or educational initiatives which could help address their chosen goal and develop a prototype of a possible solution using modern technologies and computer-controlled fabrication techniques.
The lower school STEAM program is a program built on passion, but goes beyond that. It encourages students to be bothered by problems that don’t seem to be easily solved, and work towards finding solutions to these problems. Students are encouraged to set their minds to magical, seemingly possible ideas and bring them to reality. That sets their minds on fire and makes them think that things they thought were impossible are actually accomplishable.
If we successfully ignite this passion in all of our students, the possibilities are endless.