Creativity and Innovation STEM from LCM Programming
July 13, 2023
By Shannon L. Blady, PhD, LCM Chief Learning Officer and the Education Department
The Louisiana Children’s Museum is proud of the programming and exhibits that align with our learning framework and our four impact areas. Throughout our Play Building and in our big backyard, you will find exhibits dedicated to Sustainability, Health and Wellness, Arts and Culture, and Early Learning and Literacy. You will also see how our Reggio Emilia Approach to Education manifests through conversations, documentation, and interactive play. In addition, as our education team plans robust, meaningful programming, we consider whose voices are being heard, how does it meet the needs of all families in our community, and one other special element: How does or could this program, activity, or event promote STEM?
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Just as the Reggio Emilia philosophy promotes an open-ended approach to learning and creative thinking, so does STEM, which also emphasizes problem solving, critical thinking, and innovation. As we observe and gently guide children’s explorations, we have multiple opportunities to make their thinking and learning visible. This means we share with the child, their peers, parents, caregivers, and community members the infinite potential of children’s thoughts and theories. It’s even included in the LCM Mission Statement:
Louisiana Children’s Museum contributes to the region’s future prosperity by engaging children’s potential and making that potential visible. Through play, shared explorations, and in dialogue with adults, LCM connects children to each other, adults, their environments and communities.
What happens when we highlight children’s theories? Why would we keep the projects and programming open-ended? For one, we value children’s input and want them and others to see the value of their ideas. Another reason is… that’s where innovation thrives. Children have really cool ideas and innovative ways to problem solve. Activities that promote STEM encourage this mindset. It also allows children to see that the first theory might not exactly work, and that’s ok. We encourage them to tinker a bit more, adjust, and think about it. It’s all a part of learning.
It is when children are building, connecting, and figuring it out that adults can observe and listen. It’s not always easy. Often, we want to help or even do it for them, but the Louisiana Children’s Museum is designed for children to explore, and our In Dialogue threads throughout the Museum are designed to help parents and caregivers to explore with them. Thus, the part of our mission that mentions “shared explorations”.
We understand that children’s theories flourish when we integrate STEM activities, and many of our exhibits are designed with STEM in mind. Here are a few ways in which STEM is integrated throughout our galleries:
In Play With Me, our youngest guests enjoy STEM activities all day, but especially during Toddler Time at Ten. We have watched our littles ones design structures with blocks, combine materials to make fun mixtures, and hypothesize about which toy will sink or float. They also sort, count, and measure.
In our Make Your Mark Gallery, guests are invited to build multiple structures with blocks of different shapes and sizes and can design blueprints for these or other buildings at our Architecture Table. They can also experiment with shapes, light, and shadow at our Build Big Dreams exhibit.
In the Studio in the Park, you will find many collaborative projects that encourage inquiry-based exploration and creative problem solving. Our education team designs programs with the understanding that Art and Design are used to translate STEM to the world or create and actualize the science. We also always highlight the importance of ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ as we repurpose cardboard and household materials for our projects.
In Follow That Food, children have opportunities to engage with our ever-popular Bean Machine, which consists of multiple simple machines: a pully, an Archimedes screw, and wheels and axles. Of course, there is plenty of math involved with our measuring scales, recipes, and sorting activities in our Grocery Store.
Naturally, one would expect to find plenty of science in our Dig Into Nature Gallery. Here, children are encouraged to consider creative solutions to some of our environmental challenges in Southeast Louisiana and are invited to explore how people in this part of the country use natural resources for a variety of purposes at the Sedimentation Table, Wave Wall, and Energy & Engineering Tables. They also have opportunities to engage with our high-powered microscope to explore the fascinating world of microbiology on a large viewing screen.
In Move with the River, guests are encouraged to consider natural resource stewardship while exploring the geological, cultural, and economic impact of the Mississippi River in a safe learning environment. Children can see how precipitation fuels the river and can play with locks and dams to discover how humans manipulate water to aid transportation. They also build structures that help transport water to use in our homes, cities, and farms and manage water by pumping it out and pushing it into Lake Pontchartrain to prevent flooding.
And that’s just inside! The STEM possibilities in our Edible Garden, Floating Classroom, Music Hummock, and Toddler Landscape are endless. The next time you visit LCM, take note of all the ways in which STEM manifests throughout our galleries and be on the lookout for special weekend STEM programs.
Another significant component of our mission statement is that LCM “contributes to the region’s future prosperity…” We envision a future with tinkerers, thinkers, problem solvers, and innovators. If you’re reading this, we’re pretty sure you do, too.