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Upper School STEAM Electives Open New Dimensions

The assignment: create a hypothetical redesign of the lower-level floor at 81st Street. The judges: teachers and administrators from throughout the school, who gathered to evaluate the Upper School students’ proposals.

Projects like this one from Intro to Engineering encapsulate the way that students in Upper School STEAM electives are gaining skills applicable to real-world scenarios. In this case, the students had to draw upon their knowledge to solve a common engineering conundrum: how to come up with an idea within a narrow set of constraints that is both feasible and appealing to an outside audience.

Equipped with a strong foundation in core math and science courses, Upper Schoolers have access to a broad range of electives that “allow [them] to go deep into topics they are excited about, and really individualize their STEAM journey,” says Danny Isquith, Upper School Director. Starting early in their high school careers, students can investigate topics such as programming, bioethics, environmental science, the history of math and much more.

As in all Calhoun classes, students in US STEAM electives are given ample opportunity to take ownership over the material, which fosters self-motivated problem-solving. For example, in Experimental Design, students pursue scientific research on a topic of their choice. “It’s been really cool to do something on our own, because we’ve learned the correct way to analyze reports and conduct experiments,” says Sydney W. ’23.

In Coding, where a final project is creating a digital game of one’s choice, students don’t just learn to follow a template, but also to navigate the process of trial and error that is inherent to the field. “Self-learning is a big part of coding, so my goal is to give students the tools to continue their journey and think about the higher-level concepts they might want to learn,” explains teacher Arisa Hirabayashi.

This higher-level problem-solving is reinforced by the interdisciplinary nature of the electives. In Personal Finance, Investing & Entrepreneurship, Upper Schoolers draft and present a financial plan for a volunteer faculty member, a project that requires facility with data, research skills, and the ability to communicate an idea to someone who might be less familiar with financial terminology.

US science teacher Naomi Choodnovskiy explains how faculty deliberately emphasize the interconnectedness of STEAM concepts, which in turn prepares students to tackle problems that don’t fit neatly into one category. “The interdisciplinary way we teach these topics models how things come together in the real world,” says Naomi. “We talk a lot about how you have to pull tools from different experiences you’ve had to apply to the problem at hand.”

Beyond honing their critical thinking, the opportunity to explore helps students realize the possibilities of what STEAM is and can be—maybe even sparking a passion they didn’t know they had. “[By taking these electives] you’re exploring whole new dimensions,” says Seth C. ’23. “In seeing all of the various fields, it shows you a lot of avenues where this knowledge can be used.”

Examples of Upper School STEAM Electives

  • Forensic Science
  • Anatomy for Artists
  • Introduction to Engineering
  • Bioethics
  • Coding
  • Personal Finance, Investing & Entrepreneurship
  • Experimental Design
  • Women in Science
  • History of Mathematics
  • Robotics
  • Environmental Science
  • The Science of Food


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