WINCHESTER — The roles were reversed for teachers Monday at the 2019 Summer STEAM Institute as they became students to learn how to integrate STEAM thinking into their classrooms.

STEAM, which stands for Science Technology Engineering Art and Math, is all about “hands-on, minds-on” education to engage students and teach them critical thinking and problem-solving skills, said Gwen Soderberg-Chase, executive director of Douglas County Partners for Student Success.

The institute was sponsored by the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub and DCPSS, and will continue through the rest of the week at Umpqua Community College.

For five educators participating in the “Coaching First Lego League Robotics” session, STEAM thinking revolved around more than directing a pesky Lego robot.

It was about working together and problem-solving in teams — some of the deeper skills that presenter Loridee Wetzel said every robotic student team member should learn.

Wetzel, who represents the Oregon Robotics Tournament and Outreach Program, taught the session along with Linda Koontz.

Divided into two teams, educators learned how to navigate a Lego robot on top of a paper layout, based on its recognition of light and colors.

In the afternoon, both teams spent a couple of hours programming their respective robots to push weighted cans out of the circle.

Everybody agreed it wasn’t easy.

“They are learning how their robot works and what its limitations are,” Wetzel said. “Because as much fun as an Ev3 is, it’s still a toy.”

Next door, Amanda Sandoval led a session about incorporating STEAM into preschool and kindergarten classrooms.

“It’s not explicit instruction, it’s guiding inquiry,” Sandoval said. “It’s very important that it’s hands-on. Those kids are the ones that are doing the investigating, they’re the ones figuring it out, and the teacher is guiding them.”

Sandoval had the teachers play with Legos, magnets and marble tracks as an example of how to use hands-on approaches when bringing STEAM into the classroom

“It’s like playing and learning all at one time, which is what we want for our kids,” said Ana Ramirez, English Language Learner coordinator and teacher for Sutherlin School District.

Using different equipment and supplies can help engage students in the STEAM lesson plans, Sandoval said. Teachers across Douglas County have access to the Lending Library, located at UCC, to rent out different equipment, such as marble tracks or microscopes.

Sara Raynor, a homeschool teacher in Roseburg, said she is grateful the Lending Library is a resource for the educators in the community.

“It’s nice to be able to borrow these because I wouldn’t be able to buy that for just one project a year,” Raynor said.

Next, Sandoval brought out Ozobots, golf ball-sized robots that respond to different forms of coding, for the teachers to try out.

Ozobots follow a line drawn in black marker but perform different tasks when they pass sequences of colors, such as turning around, speeding up, slowing down and stopping.

Alishea Maynes, a kindergarten teacher at Glide Elementary School, said using Ozobots in the classroom can combine several topics and themes into just one lesson.

“I feel like being able to have these resources helps us use a lot of different things. This is art, this is technology this is engineering, this is math,” Maynes said.

Lindsey Cook, a kindergarten teacher at Eastwood Elementary School, said letting kids work more with their hands can lead to stronger critical thinking.

“STEAM is a very hands-on component of education,” she said. “It provides kids with that outlet to get their hands on parts and create solutions to problems. Sometimes they think they’re playing but they are still learning.”

Hannah Kanik is a general assignment reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at and 541-957-4210. Or follow her on Twitter @hannah_kanik.

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Hannah Kanik is the Charles Snowden intern at The News-Review.

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