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K-State Today

July 30, 2021

College of Education launches successful Virtual STEAM Academy

Submitted by Sarah Harper

In its first-ever Kansas State University Virtual STEAM Academy offered by the College of Education's curriculum and instruction department, approximately 110 middle school students participated in hands-on learning activities throughout the state of Kansas.

Debbie Mercer, the dean of the College of Education, is elated that this summer program has begun with such success.

"We are excited to have begun this virtual program this past June," Mercer said. "Virtual STEAM is all about bringing our community back together through virtual, engaged learning, taught by incredible teachers. These middle school students will continue to learn during the summer from their classrooms and homes."

As a spinoff of the popular in-person USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden and K-State College of Education STEM Summer Institute, the virtual program focused on STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Hosted June 7-24, it served as a pilot study and was initially offered with a small selection of topics:

  • Wild, Weird and Wonderful Writing, co-taught by Vicki Sherbert, assistant professor in the curriculum and instruction department, and Delaney Pollart, a recent K-State College of Education graduate who teaches English at Goodland Junior/Senior High School.
  • M.U.S.I.C., for Music Using STEM is Cool, taught by spring 2021 K-State graduate Meredith Casey, assistant director of bands for Washburn Rural High School, Topeka.
  • Sports Science, taught by Angie Messer, instructor in the curriculum and instruction department. 
  • Stop Motion Animation, taught by Rachael Asbury, seventh/eighth grade computer science teacher, Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School, Manhattan. 
  • Planet Podcast, taught by Shelly Camba, English language arts teacher, Susan B. Anthony Middle School, Manhattan.

Calista Speake, a remote kindergarten teacher for the 2020-2021 school year at Amanda Arnold Elementary School in Manhattan, served as principal of the virtual academy. Lori Goodson, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and K-State Summer STEM Institute coordinator, developed the virtual program.

Like the Summer STEM Institute, the virtual version offers hands-on, high-engagement activities led by highly qualified teachers throughout the region. Classes in the virtual version are designed to make use of many common household items to keep expenses at a minimum for participants.

The program was open to individual students who wanted to participate from home, as well as to school districts who were interested in a hybrid version that involved the classes being taught virtually to classrooms with on-site teachers from the local district to assist.

"It was especially exciting to see the hybrid format attract so much interest," Goodson said.

Four districts — Inman USD 448, Oxford USD 358, Prairie Hills USD 113, and Royal Valley USD 337 — joined the Virtual STEAM Academy, with a total of 11 classrooms offering the classes. Lisa Suhr, the technology integration specialist for Prairie Hills, loved the interactive option of STEAM and had much to say about her students and teachers enjoying it.

"Our students had a positive interaction with their school while they explored, created, and deepened their understanding of STEAM topics," Suhr said. "Our teacher facilitators were able to show up, learn alongside students, and enjoy the time instead of having to do more prep and planning during the summer. They even got some ideas to use back in their classrooms in the future!"

Goodson, assistant director of the College of Education's Rural Education Center, was eager to help the USD 383-College of Education in-person program be shared with an even larger audience.

"The USD 383-College of Education collaborative project went online last summer because of the pandemic and was extremely successful," Goodson said. "We wanted to keep that momentum going and provide that same hands-on, engaging program for those who are unable to participate in person. We chose to try a remote version to see what kind of reception it would receive. And, based on the participation and the feedback we've received, we're excited with the results."

Plans are already underway for summer 2022, which will include a wider variety of virtual class topics, as well as involving more school districts across the country in the hybrid version.

To learn more about the Virtual STEAM Academy, contact Speake at virtualsteam@k-state.edu or Goodson at lagoodson@k-state.edu.