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Swift School
Success with dyslexia starts here
STEAM: A Fun Approach to Learning
Kraig Doremus

A person's passions are often determined by the size of the smile on their face when they are asked to discuss what makes them tick. Ask Ken Cressman about his STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Program at Swift School, and you will see the glimmer in his eye and smile on his face as he explains the program's evolution and how proud he is of the students.

“At first, we had just bits and pieces of a program, but this year we have been working on developing an entire curriculum for all grade levels,” said Mr. Cressman. “We have been working with the lower division grades this year to get everything up and running and seeing what we need for the future.”

Readers might be unfamiliar with the “A” element of the STEAM program, which factors in art, and allows every student to resonate with the lessons. 

“Some students are really into how their project looks aesthetically,” noted the fifth-year Swift School teacher. “We incorporate that into what we are doing with each project. Our students read The Salamander Room, and there are gorgeous paintings featured throughout the book. Not only did we look at the art, but we also looked at the engineering and design behind the architecture.” 

Recently, first and second graders built dugout canoes using recycled materials. The goal was to engineer the canoes so that they could carry a significant weight load and did not tip over in the water. 

“When we start a project, I tell them that failure is not bad,” he mentioned. “They are developing skills in the STEAM lab like overcoming failure and working with a partner, skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.”

How did the canoe project start? With a simple sketch and investigation into dugout canoes from around the world. After completing research, students designed the canoe and brought it to life. In the STEAM lab, students start young, yet they construct creations that wow the veteran educator.

One of Mr. Cressman's favorite projects was the inside-out house. While he will often give the students ideas and let them pick a design to implement, one student did something extraordinary, something that wowed even Mr. Cressman himself. The student designed his house so that the top of the house opened up and shifted outward. When he saw the intricacies of the pupil's work, Mr. Cressman took a back seat, and the student became the teacher. 

“He showed several of his classmates how he did his project,” a beaming Mr. Cressman said. “It was cool for everyone to see him become the teacher. I was proud because he was a student who struggled at first and didn’t know what to expect. Then, he wowed us all and put together something open-ended. I like when students get to become teachers. They discover, try, fine-tune and share with their classmates. That is a big, rewarding part of the program.”

Email to visit Mr. Cressman's STEAM lab one afternoon and watch the wheels turn in a student’s brain as he or she designs an incredible creation with guidance from one of Swift’s best instructors.