This year's WNY STEAM conference, which was held on Monday and Tuesday at Buffalo State College, featured several Lockport City School District teachers who presented on a variety of subjects including robotics and increasing student engagement with physical activities.
Kirsten Smith, a third-grade teacher at George M. Southard Elementary School, presented several lectures at the conference. This reporter attended her first lecture, titled Mindfulness and Metacognition to Increase Engagement, and noted the room was packed with parents and teachers eager to hear a practitioner's thoughts on the subject.
"Basically we live in an environment where we are inundated and overstimulated with information. And there's a lot of research to show that brains need a chance to focus and rest and process information to really retain it. And I employ some techniques in my classroom that I feel could be used at any age and any level," Smith said. "We all need to take a moment out of this life of being inundated with constant information and be present in the moment."
Smith shared some of the resources that she uses to help students get that moment of downtime to process what they have learned. One resource she uses is gonoodle.com, which features a cartoon character doing exercises that students can follow along with. Depending on the exercise, it may calm or energize them to process information.
In addition, Smith presented Literacy + STEAM = Learning Across Content Areas! — a talk about incorporating literacy instruction with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) topics — and Using STEAM to Help Students in Trauma.
"Typically STEAM activities tend to be a little more small-group and they tend to be more hands-on. And those not only just benefit every kid and are more interesting to them, but kids who particularly need some more social emotional support do well in small settings and small groups," Smith said.
This was Smith's third time presenting at the conference. A Lockport native, she's a graduate of Ohio-based Denison University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in dance and psychology, and Canisius College, where she earned master's degrees in childhood education and literacy.
Before joining the Southard teaching staff in early 2016, Smith taught dance and religion at Sacred Heart Academy in Buffalo, where she earned several awards for her teaching style and skill. In 2014, she was recognized for teaching a course on 9/11, developed by the Tribute Center at Ground Zero, and PBS dubbed her a "digital innovator" for her work in getting the academy to incorporate iPads in classrooms.
Being able to teach in Lockport is a privilege, according to Smith.
"It's nice to be in my hometown and kind of give back to the community in a way I feel very passionate about," she said.
While STEM / STEAM fields have been relatively male dominated, Smith sees a serious effort underway now to get more females involved in the fields.
"I think there is a big push to get girls interested in STEAM topics. I know that Sacred Heart has added a collaboratory. Girls are learning how to weld. They're learning how to coat. They're learning how to use a 3D printer," she said.
Also presenting at the conference were Lockport district teachers Mike Lieber and Noah Raymond. Their lecture, STEAM For All in Lockport, focused on the district's robotics program.