By Jennifer Neville, Of The Catholic Virginian

Enthusiasm permeated Bishop Sullivan High School’s STEAM Expo Feb. 25 as Catholic elementary and middle school students displayed the LEGO robots they made at their schools, and students, parents and teachers joined forces on projects such as creating and launching straw rockets and building and shooting catapults.

The event which was in Virginia Beach drew approximately 70 people – students, their families and friends and school representatives, the expo’s facilitator Cheryl Beauchamp reported. The objective was to show how STEAM can enrich curricula by weaving science, technology, engineering, art and math together.

Mrs. Beauchamp, who is the department chair of engineering and computer science at Regent University, said teachers are sometimes hesitant to facilitate STEAM after school enrichment programs. Mrs. Beauchamp encourages them “to jump in.” The teacher can just describe a project and then stand back and let the students create. The teacher guides from the sidelines, coaching teams of students to share their talents such as being a math whiz, a science enthusiast or an artist as they discuss, tinker and experiment to create the finished product.

Students from St. Matthew Catholic School display their LEGO robotics projects.

The expo showed that STEAM projects can be either simple or complex. For example, on the simple side, teams of adults and teams of students faced off as they built towers of toilet paper rolls. On the more complex side, students displayed projects which required them to create computer programs to control their LEGO robots. Student teams from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Newport News, St. Patrick School in Norfolk and St. Gregory the Great and St. Matthew schools in Virginia Beach displayed their LEGO robots and the tasks they could do. For example, one school’s robots carried out mock space missions while another team made robots which battled each other. Representatives from St. John the Apostle School in Virginia Beach and St. Pius X School in Norfolk attended to get ideas on how to expand their STEAM programs. About a dozen BSCHS students were on hand to guide participants through the different activities.

Mrs. Beauchamp said STEAM activities often are so fun that the students don’t realize they’re learning.

“It’s like putting spinach in their Smoothie,” she said.

Mrs. Beauchamp said the STEAM Expo met its three goals: to share information regarding STEAM offerings at BSCHS, to bring STEAM facilitators together to develop future collaborative opportunities to grow their robotics programs and to bring students together to develop new friendships from their common STEAM interests.

Perhaps the best indicator of success though came from the students themselves.

“The kids didn’t want to leave when the day was over,” Mrs. Beauchamp said.