Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Scott Siegfried offered a straightforward message to kick off the fourth annual STEAM-a-Palooza event held Nov. 10 at Grandview High School.
"Science is cool," Siegfried told the crowd gathered in the Grandview library on a sunny Saturday morning, specifically citing his CCSD roots as a science teacher at Eaglecrest High School. "This is an opportunity for our kids to exercise their brains and engage in hands-on, meaningful learning."
Siegfried's message summed up the mission of the event that is quickly becoming a beloved tradition in Cherry Creek Schools. For the past four years, STEAM-a-Palooza has drawn a mix of students, teachers, parents and representatives from across the community to celebrate a unique blend of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM).
This year was no different, as hundreds crowded the Grandview halls to take part in interactive learning displays, STEAM-based workshops and dialogues that stressed the importance of creativity, innovation and fun. Funded in part by grants from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation, this year's event titled "Empowered by Innovation" featured a wealth of features ranging from a workshop based on the science of pinball machines to a stand featuring members of Thunder Ridge Middle School's Slithers Club, a student group dedicated to educating the public about their impressive collection of boas, pythons and other snakes.
The event also featured the winning projects from this year's Cardboard Challenge, CCSF's annual competition that encourages students to harness their imaginations to construct projects out of recycled materials, and hosted a variety of student- and teacher-led interactive experiments. Representatives from local industries and universities were also on hand to take part in the fun.
When Grandview opened its doors to the public on Saturday morning, more than 3,500 people had registered.
"We're all about innovation, and our students cannot truly get to that point if they're not thinking creatively," said Sarah Grobbel, CCSD's Executive Director of Career and Innovation. "This is a chance for kids to be creative and have fun; it's a chance to empower and encourage our students to be innovative. I love this day – I look forward to it all year."
A stroll down the Grandview halls revealed a flurry of activity, as students of all ages excitedly took part in LEGO building projects, simulations of the structure of outer space and displays of high-tech robots from companies like Lockheed Martin and public organizations like the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office Bomb Squad Crew. Students and parents alike had the opportunity to engage in firsthand, immersive learning, even as they saw real-life examples of how the precepts of STEAM are used in the real world.
According to organizers, incorporating the arts into the traditional grouping of science, technology, engineering and math adds an entirely different dimension to the learning process. Students who have the opportunity to express themselves creatively in the pursuit of scientific subjects often find more personalized and immediate pathways into the lessons.
"It all comes down to how we teach our kids," Siegfried said, citing the district's commitment to education across the board, from the new Innovation Spaces at every elementary and middle school to the opening of the new Cherry Creek Innovation Campus next year. "Including the arts in STEAM offers an all-inclusive route to learning; it helps expand the brain and encourage problem-solving."
Those pedagogical precepts were on display during this year's STEAM-a-Palooza, but the gathering also had a much simpler goal at its heart.
"Today's about fun; it's not about work," Grobbel said, adding that ambitious plans were already underway for STEAM-a-Palooza V in 2019. "STEAM-a-Palooza makes this building come alive."