Innovative STEAM Nights bring families together in discovery

By Cathi Douglas

Capistrano Unified schools are building students’ enthusiasm for science through innovative programs while coping with coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

A recent STEAM Night at George White Elementary School is one recent example. Under the direction of Elisa Slee, the district’s curriculum specialist for elementary schools, and several outside organizations, the school engaged students and parents with a night full of scientific investigation.

The flier for George White Elementary’s Virtual STEAM Night.

Families could participate in four different breakout sessions during the April 28 virtual event, which drew close to 85 online participants. The program featured presentations and activities from Crystal Cove Conservatory and Inside the Outdoors, Principal Andrew Klinkenberg said.

“One of our driving focuses is science and how we can incorporate it into everyday learning,” Klinkenberg explains. “We want to keep the excitement of science among students and promote community involvement. At STEAM Night, we got a little common bonding, and it was nice to have that opportunity.”

The event is one of many activities through the district, notes Slee, that involve schools, students and parents, and community partners.

Palisades Elementary School, in addition to schools districtwide, has a student garden that promotes hands-on learning at different grade levels; the garden was made possible with the help of the PTA, the San Clemente Garden Association, and an Eagle Scout. The school also boasts a new, state-of-the-art Innovation Lab for students.

Participants signed onto Zoom to participate in the virtual STEAM night events.

Malcolm Elementary School held a Family Engagement Night in which families worked together to create an invention.

Castille Elementary School’s Family STEAM Night highlighted another community partner, the Child Creativity Lab.

“We know that children and families love STEM,” Slee explains. “Last year, before COVID-19, our Innovation Showcases were well-attended, and I wanted to continue this community outreach to foster family engagement.”

“Our community partners—Inside the Outdoors, Crystal Cove (Conservancy), Child Creativity Lab, and Discovery Cube – have helped to support this movement by providing virtual field trips, participating in family STEAM nights, and offering professional learning opportunities for our teachers,” she said.

Students participate in virtual STEAM night activities from their homes.

Kim Anderson, who coordinates the STEAM Lab at George White as the PTA liaison, says parents and students both loved the hands-on activities during STEAM Night, which were made possible through kits the families picked up from the school in advance.

“I think it was easy for them to get online, have a fun night with their kids, and create plankton and parachutes,” Anderson says. “The children have missed out on a lot this year. They love being in the STEAM lab, being challenged, and creating things.”

“I’m happy that we had the participation of volunteers and organizations to make this event possible, as it was the students’ first opportunity for something that was really creative and fun,” she said.

The videos below show CUSD students sharing their STEAM inventions:

Sharing is caring!