Meet STEAM Teacher: Laurel Blackmon

Let’s get to know some of our fabulous STEAM teachers starting with Laurel Blackmon.

Laurel was the first person to greet my family when we visited STEAM for the first time in January of 2019, and both of my kids adore her! This year Laurel is both a Coordinator on STEAM’s Leadership team, and STEAM’s PreK-1st Curriculum Organizer.

How did you first find out about The STEAM School?

LB: I think it randomly popped up on Facebook initially for me. I had been looking for a co-op or a meet-up for our family with no success-they were either too unstructured or religious or just philosophically misaligned with our educational priorities. STEAM found us, I suppose 🙂

How have you been involved with STEAM in the past, and what role(s) will you be filling this coming school year?

LB: I taught creative writing and K-1 last year. This year, I will teach PreK-1st grade math, PreK-1st grade literacy, and creative writing. I’ll also lead morning meetings with a lot of emphasis on building social skills, creating a positive learning community, and anti-bias work.

What is your favorite thing about teaching at STEAM?

LB: I love the kids! They are wonderful company, and I love connecting with them and learning with them. I also love that we can foster learning through play and facilitation and not be constrained by the expectations and traditions of school. For our family, it’s been a wonderful balance of intentional design and student-led experiences. We can be responsive to individual kids while also leading them toward goals that we have for them.

What is your background/experience with the topics you’ll be teaching?

LB: I’ve taught reading, math, and writing at most grade levels PreK-8th at some point as well as overseen instructional practices and written curriculum at those grade levels and disciplines. I lead staff development on Responsive Classroom through my consulting work with schools, so that’s an area of particular passion; morning meeting and its associated practices are wonderful for a community. As far as anti-bias work goes, that is my life’s work. Supporting little kids as they learn about the world, its diversity, and its inequity was the focus of my dissertation. That’s also the primary focus of my consulting work with schools. I’m so thankful that I get to do this directly with students as well as help teachers in school settings.

Any sneak peeks you can share about what learners in your class might be working on this coming semester?

LB: Lots of play! For the PreK-1st graders, we have mapped out the year and planned some centers that let them explore concepts in meaningful, age-appropriate, and fun ways. We also have ideas for projects that are grounded in real life (cooking, sewing, creating plays, etc). We have left quite a bit of space for the kids to lead, as well, and let the curriculum emerge a little. 

For the creative writing classes, we are leaning on Bravewriter for ideas, but also have left lots of room for student-initiated projects. Emily and I are interested in pursuing some activism work with the 4th-6th graders, and for the younger ones, perhaps some writing about art. We will see where they lead us!

Tell us a little about your personal interests/hobbies.

LB: I love to read novels and have indulged in that quite a bit this summer. I also love running, hiking, walking, cooking, and, in a less busy time in my life, I loved to make art and sew. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done that, though, unless you count crafting with kids.

I am active in social justice work, as well, which takes on several different forms. My work with schools is the primary avenue for this, but we also attend political events as a family and campaign when possible. I anticipate being more active this year in preparation for the 2020 election.

What is one goal you have for yourself and/or your students in this coming school year?

LB: Slowing down for deep learning, spending time lingering on ideas-for all of us. Since I come from a school teaching and administration background, the pressure to “cover” topics and curriculum is often present for me. This year, I want to let that go, focus on a simpler set of goals for the kids, and spend most of my time learning alongside them.

A Great End To STEAM’s School Year

If you attended STEAM’s end of year Student Showcase, you may have seen artwork, sculpture, robots, creative stories, informational displays, comics, and more. STEAM students each decked out their personal display areas with favorite creations from the 2018-2019 school year and it looked something like this:

I was able to interview several students at the Student Showcase and find out the answer to this question:

What was your favorite thing about STEAM School this year?

I told them it could be ANYTHING, and here were some of the responses:

“Baking sugar cookies.”

“The forts!”

“Comics”

“Coding and Robotics class.”

“Making boats out of cardboard and duct tape.”

“Swinging in the hammock.”

“Science…and all the nature!”

“Programming with Lego WeDo”

“Making the yearbook.”

“Having lunch and being with my friends.”

and

“Everything!”

Have a great summer and we’ll see you in September!

STEAM Kids Weave on Mini Looms

If your child has participated in STEAM’s Hand Works elective offered on Wednesdays this spring, you may have seen or heard about a creation that looks something like this:

I was pretty impressed when my eight year old was able to show me how to weave on one of these cardboard looms when I visited STEAM in March. Having been through some craft projects at home requiring a lot of adult assistance, she was able to weave solo on her loom. She worked on it for weeks, and even brought it home to finish it with zero encouragement (nagging) from me.

She is envisioning dolls blankets, mini table cloths, Calico Critter rugs, and more!

What would your child create with a hand-woven creation?

My sources tell me that Mrs. Beth helped the kids create these simple and inexpensive looms using cardboard and string, and showed them the weaving process. From there, they were free to create their own patterns using a variety of different yarn colors and textures.

No worries about pricked fingers! Since kids have an option of using a blunt plastic needle, or their fingers with this weaving project, it is accessible for even the youngest weavers.

Have your kids pre-cut yarn pieces to appropriate lengths, and bring their looms along for a road trip, or entertainment for those days when they have to come along to that appointment where the dentist fixes the front tooth you chipped on a fork (I’m a voracious eater).

I had a chance to weave alongside STEAM kids, and definitely found it to be a relaxing and satisfying activity — definitely something you can enjoy along with your kids.

Interested in doing this at home? It is super easy.

Here is a great video that will get you started in just a few minutes!

Got Dirt?

STEAM School parents know that outdoor time is a highlight of each day at co-op. Our kids employ sticks, rocks, hammocks, pallets and more to enhance their time outdoors. Whether they are building forts, playing capture the flag, or immersed in their own creative game or pretend play, nature, found items, and imagination are all that is needed to delight and learn!

With one self-proclaimed ‘indoor boy’ and one who would probably live with the fox family in our back yard if I (and they) would let her, I am a parent who is very interested in outdoor play.

My research started with Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play and more recently I have been learning about Adventure Playgrounds through lots of articles online. We love the idea of creating a backyard environment where the kids can play and create outside.

And we don’t want to spend thousands doing it.

As summer approaches my family has come up with an idea to set the scene in our backyard without breaking the bank.

A Dirt Pile. Because: mud pies, dirt stews, holes, excavating barbie mummies and the like.

I’m not sure how we don’t have this yet and I scolded myself when I discovered that our house is essentially a dirt-less destination. Sure we have dirt, but it isn’t easily accessible with the grass (weeds) growing on top. I’ve thought about an obstacle course, a maker space and other outdoor oasis (time consuming) ideas for the kids, but a dirt pile? That’s doable.

Next question: Where will the dirt come from?

If you have a project for the summer like a patio or other undertaking that will result in some extra/displaced dirt, you are all set! We are looking for a mini dirt mountain, so we are going to see if a couple of grading projects we are getting estimates on can relocate our valuable dirt for kid enjoyment. You can also check with construction sites or residential projects in your area if you have a truck and can haul away dirt and save them the trouble. If not, local garden supply and nurseries offer dirt in various amounts from bags to truck loads if paying for dirt doesn’t hurt you like it hurts me.

I’ve lived places where the HOA would have been all over me for a dirt pile. If you are in that situation, consider a dirt box. This is likely going to be smaller, so you might spring for the high quality dirt or ‘soil’ as us dirt snobs like to call it.

What goes with dirt? Here are some of the low budget accessories to add to your dirt pile:

  • Water What is dirt without water?
  • Rocks…and other ‘treasures’ to bury
  • Sticks and Boards for bridges
  • Digging Tools of course
  • Plastic Junk …that you already have. They will love the new dirt terrain, and If 15,000 Squinkies, Shopkins, and Num Noms from under my daughters bed disappear in a dirt pile, I won’t be sad about it.
  • Receptacles – Bowls, cups, empty spice shakers filled with sand, and pails are all key for outdoor kitchen soups, stews and mud pies. I once bought onion powder, ice cream sprinkles and a few other spices for $1 each at dollar tree once for the kids to make mud pies with, and it may as well have been gold. They loved it and ‘cooked’ for hours.

Looking for dirt pile inspiration? Try these articles:

STEAM Learners Visit Warrenton Wastewater Treatment Plant

On Monday, April 1st, 2019, STEAM families had an opportunity to visit the Warrenton Wastewater Treatment Plant for a tour of the facility.

It was unseasonably cold and windy, so the predominantly outdoor tour was brisk, however, according to our tour guide, the cold weather decreases some of the less pleasant smells that are sometimes detected at the plant.

Originally built in 1958 with major upgrades in 1978 and 1990, the plant has since added an ultra-violet disinfection system and nutrient removal upgrades costing close to 8 million dollars!

Our tour guide walked us through all of the equipment the water passes through from the time it enters the facility to when it leaves the facility, and explained the purpose of each. We could actually see where the water runs into a nearby stream right after the ultra-violet disinfection.

Finally we went inside and got to peek at the lab where our guide described some of the tests they do on the water to make sure the equipment is performing properly, and talked about some of the jobs his coworkers have.

Looking for more resources on this topic?

My kids and I listened to a fun podcast the week before the trip to learn a bit more about the topic. If you are sensitive to potty talk or want to discourage it with your kids, I’d skip this one. Otherwise, they will probably love it like my kids did!

Brains On! : Flush! Where does our poo and pee go?

My husband forwarded me this article after our trip. It looks at the asset side of wastewater. Who knew?

Wastewater is an asset, with nutrients, energy and precious metals — and scientists are learning how to recover themh

If you are interested in the treatment process for the clean water coming into your house, this video from New Jersey is a good starting place.

Water and You: The Water Treatment Process

Leave a reply at the end of this post if you have found a good resource you’d like to share for learning more about water treatment or the water cycle.

Support STEAM School with Box Tops!

The STEAM School is now participating in the Box Tops for Education program!

This means that STEAM families can bring in clipped Box Tops that will be submitted for ten cents each for the school! Our first submission in the amount of $120.00 is currently processing, which will be paid out in the December Box Tops payment – Woohoo!

What are Box Tops? Box Tops are those little pink and white clips you’ll find on all sorts of common foods and household products. Here’s a picture of some:

Oh, and sometimes these guys…

How should I bundle/collect them? Submit box tops in baggies or tape them to collection sheets if you prefer (either way works just fine). As long as a box top is in tact and not expired, it will count toward our earnings! Don’t worry about trimming them perfectly.

Any tips for collecting? Be sure to let friends and family know that you are collecting Box Tops – in many cases they will be happy to save theirs up for you to submit. This can make a big difference! Kids also like to hunt for them on products. Send your Box Top detectives into the pantry to see if there are any hiding there, so they don’t get accidentally thrown out with packaging.

Where should I leave them? You can leave box tops on the counter near the payment box at STEAM where our coordinator will pick them up regularly. If you have friends and relatives collecting remotely, they can always be mailed to P.O. Box 112, Markham, VA, 22643 as well.

Questions? Contact our Box Top Coordinator Susan Maccarelli with any questions.