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How to Capture STEAM Activities Using Digital Portfolios

STEAM — the approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics to guide student inquiry, discussion, and critical thinking — is a relatively new movement that is being adopted by many educators to ensure a prosperous future for their students.

With many employers struggling to fill technical and science-related roles with local talent, and American students scoring lower on science and math tests than their international peers, STEM aims to prepare students for the workforce. Incorporating the arts encourages the development of creative and critical thinking skills needed to solve today’s most pressing challenges — from global warming to health care.

STEAM is very much a hands-on practice. Students learn from trial and error, prompting educators to join the journey of discovery alongside them. Teaching STEAM means placing a focus on observing and coaching, encouraging exploration and reflection. The beauty of the inquiry-based framework is that it can be implemented with any curriculum and any grade.

5 Ways Portfolios Capture & Communicate STEAM

  1. Celebrate the Learning Process: Digital portfolios are an ideal way to capture STEAM activities, as they allow students and teachers to capture, and celebrate, the process and products of learning. Documentation of learning is quick and easy using FreshGrade. Students and teachers can capture, comment and reflect on learning on the go, using mobile and tablet devices to capture video, photo, audio, and notes.

  2. Increase Student Ownership: Build student pride and ownership by encouraging students to self-assess their work and reflect on their learning journey. Using FreshGrade, students can view and reply to teacher feedback on works-in-process and lead discussion on how they will plan future projects.

  3. Save Time & Effort: Storing artifacts of learning and collecting student submissions in one single tool can save students and teachers hours of effort, allowing them to focus on the task at hand — the learning. FreshGrade enables both the teacher and the student to contribute artifacts of learning to the portfolio, reducing the burden on the teacher to be solely responsible for documentation.

  4. Contextualize & Assess: Teachers can create activities that include state, regional and national standards to track specific student growth. They can also set their own goals and objectives, using student friendly language. After capturing learning, teachers can provide personalized feedback on STEAM activities and encourage experimentation and iteration with the use of a mastery assessment tool.

  5. Engage Parents: Using FreshGrade, students and parents are notified when student work is uploaded, or a comment is made. Allowing parents to view and communicate on portfolio items provides additional support to STEAM activities, with parents bringing their unique perspective to project work and providing encouragement. This sharing process also helps them see the potential of experiential and constructivist learning.

FreshGrade in Action – the Marshmallow Tower

Siobhan Nordstrom, our Customer Care Coordinator walks through a STEAM exercise she demonstrated at a STEAM conference in Los Altos, California:

“I was excited to share how educators could complete a STEAM activity in FreshGrade and how to capture those learning moments that are not easily captured by a grade.

We started by creating an activity in our Gradebooks. Our specific activity was Marshmallow Tower Building which had an engineering focus. In the classroom, I would have the students start by researching tower building and how gravity affects buildings, then creating a project board. Students can upload a photo of their boards to their FreshGrade portfolio and reflect via comments on how they created their project board and how they might plan to build their towers.

The next step was to have the students (or teachers, in this case) start building their marshmallow towers. I gave the teachers five minutes to build their towers in pairs of two. Their towers had to be at least three stories high and withstand a 30-second earthquake. Once the five minutes was up, the students pulled out their devices, logged into their FreshGrade for Students app, and started videoing their earthquake. While one student videoed the earthquake, the other student pounded on the table. They then posted their videos instantly to FreshGrade and reflected on what went well and what they could have done differently.

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While this is going on, parents would get push notifications, letting them know that new content has been added to their child’s portfolio. You can also invite industry professionals to view portfolios as parents. This way they can comment and interact with the student right through their FreshGrade portfolio, providing mentorship for the student as they complete their project.

Everyone was excited about how easy it was to capture those soft skills and reflect on their learning.”

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Have you used a digital portfolio to capture STEAM? What are the best examples of STEAM activities that your students done in your class? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below.

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