In 2016, St. Joseph in Seattle sought to provide additional STEM/STEAM opportunities for its students. As a retired Accenture management consultant who solved problems facing Fortune 100 companies, I decided to bring my skills into the classroom to teach students about innovation and real-world problem solving. I partnered with a teacher to introduce and pilot the ExploraVision program, a STEM competition that encourages K-12 students to use critical thinking and collaboration to develop solutions to real-world issues.
We quickly saw the benefits of the program. The students improved their ability to imagine and think creatively, research, write, illustrate—and most importantly—work as a team to achieve a goal. Every year since 2017, we have offered ExploraVision as both an elective for our middle school students during the fall curriculum and after school as part of the STEAM club.
ExploraVision allows for project-based learning—the students enjoy working together as a team to tackle real-world problems. In this format, they can bring their solutions to life and see how those solutions would impact the world. Project-based education is centered around teaching students life-long skills such as creativity, innovation and critical thinking: these are skills they will use throughout their lives.
Students and teachers can get overwhelmed at the scope and requirements of this project-based STEM competition. To prevent this, I make sure that teams have established a work plan and goal each week, that they can break down into smaller components. We also focus on teaching the students how to work together to achieve these weekly targets. To do this, we leverage the approach and lesson plans available to everyone on the ExploraVision website.
When the projects are finished, I suggest celebrating their future visions! Once we submit projects to the ExploraVision competition, we take video of all the teams providing an overview of their vision and we showcase all the projects in our school lobby so the entire community can experience the students’ innovative ideas. This, in turn, excites other members of our school community to become involved the next year. Our school motto is to “Dream Big.” No limitations!
St. Joseph has been recognized nationally with honorable mentions each year since 2016. In 2019, we had a team of third graders win the national first place title with their vision of an intelligent swimsuit called the iSuit. In 2020, we had a team of fourth graders win the second-place national title with their Ai Robotic bee, along with eight teams winning honorable mentions across each of the three divisions we entered.
At our school, the ExploraVision program has grown from one team of three students in 2016 to over sixteen teams made up of fifty-five students in 2020! Students love the ExploraVision prizes, recognition, collaboration with friends, and invention of a new technology to solve a problem.
This year, our school is doing virtual learning, but we continue to offer ExploraVision for our remote students as an elective and after-school activity. We are using video conferencing for teams to discuss problems they are interested in solving, and for brainstorming new ideas for a future invention. The teams use Google docs and Slides, which allows them to collaborate and see each other’s work without being physically together. Don’t be discouraged by the fact we are in a virtual classroom; students can still be creative and innovative. Present the challenge and they will rise to the occasion!
About the Author: Laura Laun is a retired business consultant who now brings her talents to the classroom. Laura teaches “STEAM in Action” for middle school students at St. Joseph School. She also volunteers her time to lead the after-school enrichment programs at St. Joseph in chess, robotics, STEAM Lego, Minecraft and STEAM Club for grades K – 8. Laura Laun was the mentor of the national winning team in 2019 and the coach of the 2020 national winning team. Laura has coached over 35 teams with 13 teams winning honorable mentions.