OCJ STEAM 02

After reading “Our Flag Was Still There,” students at O.C. Johnson Elementary School designed flags to represent their campus.

When remote learning prevailed in Yuma County owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, O.C. Johnson Elementary School pulled out the big guns to keep students and families connected to their home campus. Since week one of the 2020-2021 academic year, the school has posed weekly science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) challenges in the aim of fostering connections that stretch beyond the classroom.

“One of my concerns when we determined that remote learning would go a lot longer than we previously thought was how we were going to keep the kids connected to the school,” said Principal Angela Logan. “They were very connected to their classrooms through their (virtual) meets and their teachers, but I wanted them to feel connected to the school as well.”

And thus, the concept of “STEAM Challenge of the Week” was born.

On Mondays, students log onto their online learning platform Class Dojo for a virtual reading of a picture book that, selected and narrated by Logan, lends a theme to the week’s challenge.

Ranging from cooking and filmmaking with the use of iMovie to building obstacle courses and fort structures out of materials found around the house, the completed challenges are due by Friday – just in time for spirit day, which is also making a weekly appearance amidst the pandemic, affording students recurring opportunities to don their “spirit gear” and showcase their finished projects in Kodak or iPhone moments featured on the school’s Facebook page.

“I really didn’t know where it was going to go; I just started with week one and wanted to see what would happen,” said Logan. “It’s turned out to be really cool and the kids are really enjoying it. Throughout the year, the participation has really grown. It started out really slow, and I get it – parents are really busy trying to figure out how to do Google Meets and remote learning. As the year’s gone by and everybody’s become more comfortable with that, every week more and more kids are sending me pictures of their STEAM challenges.”

Not only are the challenges intended to foster student engagement in a remote learning environment; they’re intended to capitalize on the fun side of learning as well.

“It was a way to prevent disconnection and to make sure that kids aren’t missing out on the STEAM part of learning,” Logan said, explaining that students were accustomed to participating in STEAM Club during in-person learning at O.C. Johnson. “I didn’t want them to miss that.”

According to Logan, many of the challenges are created to involve the entire family, giving parents and guardians an active role in their child’s education.

“My hope is that everybody in the household is participating in some way,” said Logan. “At OCJ, we always look to build partnerships with our families because we know that, ultimately, the family is going to help lead that kid to success. We have them for seven hours a day; when they go home, our hope is that families are involved in their education and social/emotional health as well so that the kiddos are all-around successful.”

While O.C. Johnson joins other Yuma School District One schools in returning to in-class learning on Monday, the STEAM Challenge of the Week is planned to continue through the remainder of the school year, according to Logan. Some students are opting to continue learning remotely, she said, and continuing the challenges will make a way for them to stay connected while strategically teaching them about literacy, STEAM and school pride.

“Learning should be fun, especially right now,” Logan said. “The world has been pretty hard on education as we’ve moved through the changes that teachers have to make, and I think we need to spread the good that schools are doing. There’s a lot of good going on and learning is still happening.”

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