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Neighbors of DuPage

Fun lessons powered by STEAM at Darien schools

Jul 05, 2017 08:30AM ● By Ben Scott

By now, everyone is probably familiar with the acronym STEM, shorthand for science, technology, engineering and math. Those are the disciplines that will be driv­ing the 21st century economy and high-growth jobs, the experts tell us. Judging by the cutting-edge compa­nies today—think Google, Apple and Tesla to name a just a few—those experts seem to know what they’re talking about.

The experts also seem to think that something is missing in the STEM equation. What about the creative aspects of engineering and manufac­turing? What about the elegance of design? What about critical thinking? What about elements of art? Add an A for art and STEM becomes STEAM, a growing movement in educational circles as well as business.

Schools are taking notice, adding more STEAM-related activities to the traditional curriculum. That’s certainly true in District 61, and two small grants from the Darien District 61 Educational Foundation this past school year helped teachers introduce more of these concepts into their classrooms in creative yet simple ways.

One grant, titled “Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead,” provided money to buy hands-on building materials as well as books and other items to support classroom projects in grades 3 to 5 at Lace School.

“STEAM materials help us think like an architect or engineer and challenge our creative minds,” teacher Erin Kasanders wrote in her grant request. “STEAM also challeng­es our growth mindset: learning from failure, working through problems, understanding the ideas of others and cooperation.”

Another grant, “LEGOs for STEM Education,” also focused on the cre­ative process and teamwork involved in building projects. The lessons help lay a foundation of knowledge while second-graders have fun designing with LEGOs.

“STEM promotes creativity, prob­lem-solving and even social skills, since it often involves working with others,” Mark DeLay teacher Linda Pritchard wrote in her grant request. “It helps students learn how to gather information and, more importantly, how to use and apply that informa­tion.”

The two mini-grants are a small part of the nearly $12,000 in fund­ing the Foundation provided to district schools this year to advance educational excellence in the com­munity. Since its founding in 2010, the Foundation has awarded nearly $60,000 in teacher grants and direct aid to students. To learn more about the many grants funded over the years and to make a tax-deductible donation, visit

David May is a member of the Darien District 61 Educational Foundation board of directors.