Wave of the future: STEAM creates proactive problem-solvers

The STEAM program, founded on creativity and critical thinking, helps students develop the necessary skills for productive careers — even in fields that haven’t been invented yet.

“What they learn now will empower them to be successful in the future,” said Rafael Martinez, principal of Arlington Heights Elementary School. “STEAM teaches skills necessary for college and any job, such as how to work in teams and be collaborative.”

Teachers at Arlington Heights weave the principles of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) into every lesson in all subjects. The objective is for students to find the most efficient way to solve any problem, whether they are engaged in writing a paper or building a robot.  

“The students are excited to be in class,” Martinez said. “They especially like the program where they build a robot to learn about modern agricultural practices. This program makes tech literacy second nature, which is important because these kids live in a world filled with tech.”

Students build robots to measure the environmental impacts of using chemicals and pesticides. Once the students gather all the information, they can use critical thinking to decide if the benefits outweigh the costs.

“My favorite days at school are STEAM days,” said Camila Morales, a fifth-grader at Arlington Elementary. “I get to learn things I might not otherwise learn.”

In fact, Morales has decided to become an engineer after designing and building a robot to study the different types of waste that go into water due to improper disposal and use of pesticides.

“Once we learn about the problem, we can find a solution,” Morales said. “We built a robot to help remove waste, so it won’t get in the water and hurt communities.”

As part of STEAM, teachers let students cognitively struggle with the material and work together to find solutions. They give fewer instructions upfront so students can proactively guide their own learning and collaboratively solve their own problems.

“STEAM is focused entirely on building skills rather than information sharing,” said Martinez. “The students lead the process. They design and build the project, rework it when needed and present the result or solution to the class.”

Eight Citrus Heights schools have a focus on STEAM, including Arlington Heights, Carriage Drive, Grand Oaks and Mariposa Avenue elementary schools, Lichen K-8, Sylvan Middle, and Mesa Verde and San Juan high schools.

Zabri’ona loves going to school now and has not missed a day this year. The STEAM program really opens their minds and encourages them to build things from scratch. These skills are what they need because it is where the world is heading, and they’ll need it for their jobs in the future. It’s all new to me, but she’s so exposed to it and she really understands it.

“Mr. Martinez and his staff are so creative and engaged with the students. Mr. Martinez is very involved, and he empowers his teachers to do these creative activities. They all seem to have real compassion for the kids.”