The Hidden Advantages of STEAM Learning


Recently, my nine-year old daughter, Paige, told me about a challenge that her Science Technology Engineering Art Math (STEAM) teacher, Rita, gave the class and, as she mentioned all of this to me, I started to realize, maybe there’s something more going on here than just STEAM-related learning. 

The challenge: drop a raw egg from a 15 foot ladder and have it land intact, by using a limited number of certain materials to protect the egg. 

Here’s part of the conversation I had with Paige (slightly edited): 

Roger: That sounds like a fun, but difficult challenge, what materials did you use to keep the egg from breaking? 

Paige: We were only allowed to use three materials and blue painter’s tape. My team used cotton balls, Playdoh containers and a plastic shopping bag. We could have also used toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls and yogurt cups. 

Roger: How did your team come up with its design? 

Paige: Our plan was to each share our own ideas with the rest of the team, and I went first. After each person went, we voted to see which design would win and why. When the votes were counted, everyone except one person voted for mine. We tweaked my idea a little more, and then we all said that we thought it would keep the egg intact. 

Roger: What was your design? 

Paige: I put cotton balls on the inside of two Playdoh containers, taped the containers together and then taped the plastic shopping bag to the containers to be like a parachute.

Diagram by Paige Marquis

Roger: How did you come up with your design? 

Paige: I kept thinking about the goal, which was to keep the egg from breaking. I knew cotton balls are soft and would protect the egg, the Playdoh containers would be able to surround the egg too and a parachute would help slow down the egg from falling. 

Roger: What happened once you settled on a design? 

Paige: After we knew what the design would be, we tested it, but without the egg. We used a golf ball instead. Rita (the STEAM teacher) dropped the container from the ladder and we observed what happened. It had a hard impact, so we decided to use more cotton balls and spread them apart on the inside of the Playdoh cups. 

Roger: Then what? 

Paige: We switched the golf ball with the egg, taped up the containers and then watched Rita drop it. 

Roger: And, did the egg survive? 

Paige: Yes! We opened up the containers and the egg didn’t break! 

Roger: How excited were you and your teammates? 

Paige: Very excited. We were pretty sure the egg wouldn’t break and it didn’t. 

Roger: It sounds like everything in your design worked, but would you have changed anything? 

Paige: No, not really. It worked. 

As interesting as it was to hear my daughter talk about the STEAM challenge, and how she and her classmates learned about gravity, motion and how different materials react to outside forces, etc., I realized there were other lessons being learned that were less apparent to them, but just as important. For example: 

  • Collaboration/Innovation: My daughter’s team, as well as the others, needed to work together to talk about, debate and decide on the design to build and the materials to use. Whether they realized it or not they were openly collaborating and innovating. 

  • Budgeting: While school-aged kids might think of budget in terms of dollars and cents, in this challenge, I see budget in terms of materials and limited resources. Each team could only select three items out of six to make their design. 

  • Design Testing: I'm not sure what other teams did, but my daughter’s team thought enough to conduct a dry run, observe the results, modify the prototype and then make the final version. In this sense they were acting as product developers and even marketers. They wanted to make the best design possible to accomplish the stated goal and/or expectation. 

  • How to Present an Idea: Although it was not mentioned in the conversation above, my daughter said that each team presented their design ideas to the class, explained the materials that were used and the outcome. 

It’s good to know that STEAM subject matter is part of the grade-school curriculum, but I’m just as glad to know that children of my daughter’s age are also learning valuable life lessons and business skills, whether it’s apparent to them or not, which will serve them well as they get older.

Roger Marquis

Roger Marquis