Featured Class: 9th Grade STEAM


Getting students excited about learning can be hard. Sometimes it's not easy to see how algebra or geometry will impact daily life, or how certain parts of science have real-world application that will impact a student directly. 

That's where Tualatin Valley Academy's STEAM* class comes in.


The STEAM class is taught to TVA's freshmen, and it's designed to get kids excited about learning in a fun new way. The class is based on Project Based Learning (PBL), a technique that has students identify a real-world problem or need and look for ways to solve it. STEAM is dynamic, engaging and solution-focused. Students learn skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork as they work together on various projects. 

This year's 9th grade class is passionate about producing videos and writing music, so Michael Blackburn, the STEAM instructor, is teaching different technology skills to students through the lens of a music video. 

How can 3D modeling be used in a music video?
What do you need to learn to use MIDI and instrumental recording?
If you're going to use time lapse in this video, what math do you need to use to figure out how you're going to do that?
A Rube Goldberg machine in the video does sound cool. How do science and engineering impact the machine you want to make?
Can computer programming be used to do slow motion or stop motion for the video?

By researching and learning these various techniques, students are building a foundation of needed skills for bigger projects to be accomplished in the years to come. For example, the students learning computer programming have chosen to learn Javascript specifically so that they can explore creating a computer game in the future. 

Student individuality is embraced in this class. Not every student will learn extensively about every component of what will go into the video they are writing and producing. Students are encouraged to pick an area or areas of interest to focus on. Some prefer computer programming. Others prefer learning how MIDI works. The end goal, however, is one group project that will combine all of their talents, skills and abilities. 


Each student in the class is exposed to each technique being taught at some point. The whole class spent all of first quarter and half of second quarter learning 3D modeling in SketchUp. They will continue to have mini lessons as a group on this skill and others throughout the school year so that they are exposed to different technologies, can develop a few basic skills in each area, and decide if they are interested in learning more about it or not. 

Ultimately, this class is about 2 things: Getting kids excited about learning via technology and helping them develop skills for college and life. To that end, each student has set up a "locker" - an online portfolio where they can store their projects and work for the next 4 years to use in the college application process. 

It has been exciting to watch the 9th graders develop new skills and find that they enjoy things that they never thought they would like. Things are not always easy. Much of what they are learning is brand new to them, and that comes with some frustration. They are learning skills often taught in sports - perseverance, teamwork and dedication. But most importantly, they are learning that they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them. 

We are excited to see that video at the end of the year!


*STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math