Elementary Steam Residency - Ontario Science Centre Canada Science and Technology Museum

The STEAM Residency began with a desire to fill a gap in opportunity for elementary students to engage in a STEM-related program in partnership with a local science agency. Secondary students have long had the opportunity to acquire credits through a year-long course. Through the commitment of community partners and agencies, educators, and Ministry of Education staff, the STEAM Residency program was launched during the 2018-2019 school year. It was a unique blend of partners, educators and students who engaged in and iteratively designed the program to meet the needs of students within local contexts. This story outlines the process, the experience and some key impacts of the program.

How might you design or iterate the process in your local area to provide these unique and important opportunities for elementary students in the area of STEM education?


Empathize & Discover and Framing the Problem

Science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) learning experiences provide an important complement to classroom learning. Traditionally, science museums offer effective learning opportunities in a novel environment, often using equipment that may not be available at school. Time constraints are a major limiting factor, as the duration of most science field trips is limited to a couple of hours or one school day. While this means that a relatively small staff team can reach thousands of students each year, the long-term impact of a short visit is minimal. Often, science educators feel torn between offering as many demonstrations and activities as possible, while also trying to create space for inquiry and student voice – in keeping with the inevitable time limit.

  • How might you provide a STEAM student experience that is in-depth, responsive, and open-ended in partnership with school boards, local science centres, museums or other innovative spaces?
  • What are some potential challenges?
  • Which organizations are potential candidates for partnerships?

The STEAM Residency Program was a prototype in providing a student experience in design thinking and innovation within a local science space. It was an in-depth, responsive, open-ended program with an immersive learning environment (outside of the classroom) in partnership with The Ontario Science Centre (OSC) in Toronto and the Canadian Science and Technology Museum (CTSM) in Ottawa and the Ontario Ministry of Education (Innovation Design & Implementation team). The program was co-developed to support the learning needs of elementary educators and students by building connections between classroom curriculum learning and experiential learning in STEAM education.

During the 2018/19 school year, approximately 700 students (in grades 6, 7 and 8) from 26 elementary schools (Toronto/Ottawa) comprised of English-Language Public, French-Language Public, and English-Language Catholic. Ontario school boards participated in the program. School administrators collaborated with classroom teachers to apply to participate in the program. Priority was given to schools with significant achievement gaps. In the majority of these situations students may not have had previous experience with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning. This program provided a hands-on experience within a large, modern science venue. The multidisciplinary program consisted of pre-visit sessions in participating schools, five consecutive full-day sessions at the host organizations, and follow-up sessions in the school and classroom.

  • Who are the under-served students in your context? 
  • What criteria might be used to support the expansion of STEM pathways? 
  • What data might be considered?
  • Who might you need to consult with regard to gathering and analyzing the data? 



Through the integration of subject areas and scientific inquiry processes the program aimed to:

  • support students’ informed decisions about STEM-related career pathways;
  • support educators’ professional learning and training opportunities in STEM teaching and learning;
  • enhance students’ interests and skill development for innovation and STEM skills that could be connected to employment; and
  • provide opportunities for students to practise collaboration, communication, creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking within a modern science facility.

Would these goals meet your aspirations for a program? What other goals might you suggest and why?


Synergistic Partnerships

In a problem-solving context, working together can increase the likelihood of brainstorming innovative options to arrive at the most effective solutions.

The concepts of collaboration and partnership were central to the ideation of the STEAM Residency. Partnerships with individuals and agencies were critical to the program and evolved through the iterative process. From the beginning of idea development amongst Ministry of Education staff, elementary and secondary educators, and community agencies’ staff to the development of instructional programming throughout the school year, partnerships were key. The STEAM Residency experience created a unique learning experience for all the participants, community partners, educators, ministry staff and students that extended beyond the constraints of professional learning sessions, student testing and curriculum requirements.

“I feel very privileged to have been able to participate in the program. The students which I was able to bring normally would not have opportunities like they did to explore the design and robotics aspects of the program. I think that the program may have sparked some new interest from students who hadn’t thought of that as a path beforehand.”

– A participating teacher

The Ontario Science Centre (OSC) in Toronto and Canadian Science and Technology Museum (CTSM) in Ottawa partnered with the Ministry of Education to co-develop a program that supported the learning needs of elementary educators and students to develop skills and connections between classroom curriculum learning and experiential learning in STEM education.

Some components of the partnership included:

Ideation – Co-creating an instructional program:

  • A diverse writing team composed of elementary and secondary educators, OSC, CSTM, Science North, University of Ontario Tech University and Ministry of Education staff met for two, two-day writing team sessions in June and July of 2018. Both sessions were offered off-site from school locations.
  • The initial session (hosted at the OSC) offered writers the opportunity to discover what could be available from the site experience for the participating students while also considering possibilities that would be available for students at the CSTM.
  • The second session at the Ontario Tech University site provided the experience of touring the state-of- the-art ACE lab while making connections to STEM skills in innovative work spaces. Through exploration and experimentation, the writers developed possible learning experiences for students, built capacity of all members with the use of STEM materials, and developed professional collaborative relationships through the sharing of practices – all while envisioning program possibilities.

Prototype and Evolve – Co-developing and facilitating lessons during the school year:

  • Throughout the school year, lessons and activities were iterated through co-development and facilitation with host teachers and school-based teachers. The process evolved to include other partners throughout the school year.
  • Educators from STEAMlabs (a community makerspace based in Toronto) helped students refine their designs and explore the possibilities of coding applications. A student from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) also co-designed activities, providing robust connections to the Ontario Arts Curriculum.
  • Science educators within the hosting organizations attended some of the sessions. They provided guidance and mentoring to students while helping to troubleshoot students’ design challenges and encouraging students to persevere when they experienced failure.
  • Teacher candidates from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) provided additional support during some of the sessions and gained insights into integrated learning experiences in STEM.
  • The OSC leveraged its partnership with the Gorilla Store (a science emporium that offers parts, tools and kits) and the Maker Bean Café (a provider of laser cutting, 3D printing services and STEAM workshops) to test and refine the program’s ‘maker-based’ activities and experiment with new ideas while helping students improve their proposed innovations.

Who might share your desire to create opportunities for under-served students in your community? (perhaps friendship centres, newcomer centres, libraries, theatres, and/or non-profit organizations?)


Enhanced Approaches and Accelerated Learning in Innovation for All Involved

This experimental project influenced and impacted the science centre and museum staff, teachers, and students in several ways:

Enriching the practice at the OSC and the CSTM:

  • A team of educators at the OSC and the CSTM enthusiastically participated in rapid prototyping sessions, helping to quickly develop, test and improve the learning opportunities offered to students. Subsequently, the project team had more successful offerings for program participants, instead of “Pinterest fail” moments where something looked fabulous on the internet but didn’t quite translate to real life.
  • The luxury of time and multiple contributors (including Science North, UOIT and K-12 science educators from around the province) enriched the practice at the OSC and the CSTM by allowing the program facilitators to keep their days open-ended and work closely with groups of students who were struggling or who had far-reaching ambitions.

Empowering participating teachers to be early adopters:

  • Participating teachers have become leaders at their schools as the project team continued to co-develop lessons and share accumulated knowledge from prototyping and field testing.
  • One teacher took the trebuchets his class made during the residency sessions and successfully improved the model with his students afterward. Previously, he had indicated that it was a challenge to communicate STEM ideas to his fellow teachers and students; however, the presence of the trebuchets in the room, the discussions that the students had using science vocabulary, and the teacher’s enthusiasm for the engineering design process started to create innovation beyond his own class. With knowledge gained from the program, some teachers were also able to facilitate a workshop for fellow teachers on more effective ways of incorporating STEM in their classrooms.

“Our work with introducing students to design and coding has allowed me to teach colleagues how to implement it in the classroom. I led a workshop for fellow teachers at my school on how to introduce coding and use of the Micro:bit in their classrooms. My colleagues were excited and thrilled to get the chance to learn about this technology. I have to credit my work in the STEAM program, as it gave me the chance to refine how I want to teach it in the classroom.”

-A participating teacher

  • How is teacher efficacy and capacity-building developing in your context?
  • Do you have protocols or processes that you would like to share?

Supporting continued growth of students:

  • During the follow-up sessions at the school sites, students seemed to be much more comfortable engaging in open-ended challenges, and more eager to take risks and explore new possibilities. The project team observed that students demonstrated innovative uses for the materials with which they were provided and engaged in creative repurposing of classroom supplies. When encountering difficulties with their designs, students tried different strategies and made adjustments until they arrived at a solution. Some teachers indicated that they had also noticed new or improved behaviours and attitudes toward STEM and innovation in their students throughout the year, after their participation in the residency sessions.

Improved Student Attitudes towards STEM and Teachers’ Enhanced Capacity

The analysis of the results of the survey, which 380 students and 22 teachers completed, revealed that:

  • 100% of teachers highlighted that their one-week experience was either “excellent” or “very good.” Similarly, students rated their experiences at 4.5/5 stars, on average.
  • 84% and 70% of students, respectively, indicated that they would like to do more of the activities that they did in the program at their school and learn more about STEM.
  • Over 90% of teachers thought that the program was either “excellent” or “very good” in providing their students with the opportunity for critical thinking, problem solving and inquiry processes.
  • Over 90% of teachers either “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that the program helped them enhance skills, knowledge, and comfort they need to facilitate STEAM programs.

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Continuing to Inspire Innovation beyond the Classroom: Moving Forward

Building on the success of the program, the OSC and the CSTM look forward to continuing their programs in the 2019/20 school year and pursuing partnership opportunities with other science centres and museums across Ontario. Partnerships may include replicating the program at a partner organization and/or incorporating ‘lessons-learned’ from the delivery of the program in the 2018-19 school year. Priorities for partnerships will be given to organizations that serve communities with limited access to STEM experiences and limited resources to teach scientific and inquiry processes.

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For more information about the STEAM Residency Program contact:

Lorrie Ann Smith
Director of Education
Ontario Science Centre
416 696 3101
Line Pivin
Director, Visitor Experience
Canada Science and Technology Museum
613-235-7053 ext. 2072

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