Sweetwater Episcopal Academy and STEAM – The Power of Productive Struggle


 “In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn by studying science, technology, engineering, and math—subjects collectively known as STEM.”

United States Department of Education

There is no doubt that a strong foundation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is a cornerstone in educational success. The addition of art to that focus allows for an infusion of creativity that harnesses the power of productive struggle. There is no failure in art, only a path toward the successful interpretation of an original idea. As such, the STEAM approach redefines failure – it is no longer an undesirable end result, but a step along the way to the creation of your unique vision. When you are building something in the STEAM lab and it doesn’t work out as planned, you simply figure out why and fix it. This approach makes the perseverance required for success a necessary part of the process.

SEA students have three rooms in our STEAM lab in which to apply this approach. 3rd graders used the Maker’s Space and Technology Room to further explore their math lessons on perimeter and area. They used graph paper and scotch tape to create a 3-D replica of an original building. Each square of the graph paper represented a square foot. They then went to the Technology Room where they used their knowledge of Minecraft coding to creatively add details to their buildings and convert the square feet to blocks that are used in the Minecraft world. Finally, they used the engineering program Tinker Cad to scale their design and create blueprints for the 3-D printer. A 5th Grade Earth, Space, Science unit on Mars used the Virtual Reality Room and the Maker’s Space. Students were tasked with creating one room in a collective Mars colony that would support life for them as settlers on Mars. They used the VR headset to “walk” on Mars to get a feel for the terrain and atmosphere and then collaborated on the function, scale and purpose of each of the rooms, using whatever materials in the Maker’s Space they wanted to fulfill their individual vision and collective final product. Each stumble in the process served as a momentary pause to reassess and self-correct, requiring them to persist in order to succeed.

Essential Next Gen Skills

With the ever-changing nature of a tech-based economy, the jobs of the future may not yet be invented, however, the skills that will help our students successfully attain these jobs are what recruiters look for. By adding a focus on STEAM lessons, SEA’s teachers have a new avenue through which to focus on the lessons and benefits of:

  • Collaboration

  • Creative problem solving

  • Critical thinking

  • Transfer of knowledge from one area to another

  • Perseverance

SEA uses our long history of project-based and experiential learning in tandem with our new STEAM lab to offer just such unique opportunities for real learning that propel our students forward toward success in life with innovative habits of mind, stronger college readiness and, ultimately, better career prospects. Because we can offer all this in the supportive and nurturing environment of SEA’s Kind Zone, we help our students embrace academic risk-taking by learning that the failure of your initial idea is just a first step in getting to the best solution.