There was a new class, or rather series of classes, at L.J. Hauser Junior High School this year. 

The class is called STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math. It adds art to the popular emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in recent years.

During the one-trimester long classes, students come up ideas to build a product, and then go through the whole design process – from drawings, to building a prototype to, ultimately, manufacturing the final product, or a miniature version of it, using a 3D printer.

“We basically teaching students different ways kind of to think, problem solve, collaborate, work together,” said Jason Smit, the instructional technology coordinator for Riverside Elementary School District 96. “I feel this is a class that is not only preparing our students for their future, I feel we’re hitting students maybe where they weren’t educationally being reached before.”

STEAM is an elective class, one of two electives Hauser students can take each trimester. During the 2016-17 school year, 70 percent of sixth-graders, 42 percent of seventh-graders, and 63 percent of eighth-graders took STEAM electives.

District 96 hired a new teacher, Steven Jones, to teach the classes. Jones has a degree in industrial design and worked for about three years in private industry mostly in information technology before deciding to become a teacher. 

He brings real-world practices into his instruction, with a stress on setting goals, working as a team and constant review and feedback by and for students. 

“My big focus is on the engineering, design process,” said Jones, who taught at a charter school in Chicago for a few years before coming to Hauser for the 2016-17 school year. “That involves creating sketches and making prototypes out of cardboard.”

In addition to using science, math and engineering in the design process, students develop confidence and poise by making presentations to peers and they give and receive feedback. Students also learn some computer programming skills.

“I love that we’re learning about engineering and 3D printing,” said Maeve Wunderlich, a seventh-grader who designed a pen and pencil case in her STEAM Design class. 

In her case you can see the tops of the pens or pencils, which will make the case easier to use. 

“I feel like whenever we’re pulling out pens or pencils when we’re grading something I always like struggle with finding just the one red pen in my pencil case so I felt like if something was more open you could easily see it,” Wunderlich said after presenting her final product to her class on June 1.

Wunderlich said that she rates her STEAM Design class a 9 out of 10.

“This class is one of my most favorite classes, because I have a lot of fun in it and we have a lot of freedom,” Wunderlich said. “You basically just get to design what you want.”

Classmate Eric Rangel designed a small prototype of an adjustable ladder that is expandable and can be set up at different angles. He thinks it would be most useful for roofing companies or other businesses that use ladders often.

Students are encouraged to have a target market in mind for their products and to build things that people would buy instead of just indulging their fantasies.

Like Wunderlich, Rangel really enjoyed the class and the freedom it offered to follow his own ideas.

“You feel independent and that you’re doing your own thing, and it doesn’t feel like somebody’s holding your hand the whole way through,” Rangel said. “You could express your creativity in different ways.” 

Another seventh-grader, Caroline Bittorf, took the slightly different STEAM Fusion class. 

In her class students did projects such as designing a boat using only three Popsicle sticks. The goal was to get it to float while holding steel balls.

“I think that the STEAM class is very interactive,” Bittorf said. “We kind of get to use our own talents to express ourselves through technology and 3D printing. I would say that STEAM Fusion is my favorite class.”

In the STEAM Entrepreneur class for eighth-graders, small groups of students form their own companies and design products. This year, students designed new bathroom signs for Hauser and signs for use at other elementary schools in the district. They met with administrators, their customers, to learn exactly what the customer was looking for and to pitch their ideas.

They developed their art skills with drawing and design; used math, science and engineering to build the products; and they worked on their speaking and listening skills by making presentations, pitching the product, working in teams, and giving and receiving feedback. Students also kept weekly digital portfolios and diaries to track their progress.

Smit and Jones are looking forward to building on what they’ve done for next year.

“Year two I think, will be kind of a fun year,” Smit said. “Just to see what we can grow and continue to expand and improve.”

Jones said he will review the class and evaluate it over the summer.

“We’re kind of building up right now, and I’m hoping to have some really nice projects as we go into the second year of the program, but right now we’re just building the foundation,” Jones said.