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Georgia’s first STEAM competition: What you need to know

A new competition, the first of its kind in Georgia, will give students in grades 4-8 the opportunity to apply the things they’re learning in the context of either engineering or art.

Conceptualized by Dr. Ashley Gess and made possible by the contributions of sponsors and collaborators across the state, the MINDFRAME competition will challenge students to solve two problems — one before the event, and one during — using creative problem solving and critical thinking skills. The event will take place on Saturday, Oct. 6, on the university’s Summerville Campus.

Gess, assistant professor of STEAM education in the Department of Teaching and Leading, said the competition will help to combat one of education’s most persistent misunderstandings: That a STEM education must focus only on knowledge of hard science and mathematics principles.

“A lot of people use the term STEM as synonymous with science or synonymous with math or engineering,” Gess said. “From an educational perspective, that’s actually not correct.”

Rather, she said, STEM refers not to a specific area of knowledge but to a way of educating students.

“STEM is an educational approach where teachers should be intentionally creating lessons and creating educational experiences where students can take the knowledge and practices they’re learning in [English Language Arts], math and science and apply them into the design process that underpins engineering,” she said.

STEAM is simply the result of including the “Arts” into a traditional STEM pedagogy.

While that might sound counterintuitive at first — after all, isn’t the goal of STEM to produce more scientists and engineers? — Gess said including a focus on the Arts does more than just challenge students to think outside the box. It also opens doors to students previously shut out by STEM initiatives.

“If you look at the design process that underpins engineering and the process that underpins artistic design, they are parallel,” she said. “The whole premise behind STEAM is we’re giving students the opportunity to construct understanding in the context of engineering or artistic design.”

STEAM, she went on to say, “is like building a ramp into a STEM building that only had stairs before.”

Because STEAM offers students more options, MINDFRAME is somewhat different in its approach to testing students’ abilities. Students will compete in teams to answer a “driving question.” For the inaugural competition that question is, “How can we keep the American Dream alive?” Working together, students will compete against other teams (a maximum of 10 teams per event) to answer that driving question in the context of either Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Spoken Word, Engineering or Rocketry.

These events are divided by age group, with 4th and 5th grade students competing separately from students in grades 6-8.

Students will also be tasked to solve a “spontaneous problem” during the event and will be assessed on their quick thinking, teamwork, communications and creativity.

So far Gess said nearly 50 teams from across Georgia have signed up to participate. The competition can facilitate up to 90 teams, and students from the CSRA’s South Carolina counties are also allowed to participate. There is a $25 fee for each event, which includes the cost of T-shirts for four students and one coach.

Registration for MINDFRAME closes Sept. 16, 2018.

“We currently have teams registered from across the state, including several places in Atlanta, Early County, Burke County, Columbia County, and Richmond County,” Gess said. “We have also heard from Jefferson County and Aiken County that they are planning to bring teams as well.

Gess said students and educators are excited for the opportunity to compete, and for her, that’s more than enough reason to be excited, as well.

“Augusta University needs to be the hub for the STEM and STEAM community in our region,” she said. “Serving our community — that’s what we’re about.”

Visit the MINDFRAME website to register a student team or contact Dr. Ashley Gess for more information.

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About the author

Nick Garrett

Nick Garrett is a communications coordinator in the Division of Communications & Marketing at Augusta University. Contact him at 706-446-4802 or ngarret1@augusta.edu.