An Interview With Paulette Chaffee

Paulette Chaffee

Paulette Chaffee is a teacher, speech therapist, and attorney deeply involved in the Fullerton community. As an educator and member of various non-profit boards, her focus has always been on providing children with the highest quality education.

Paulette Chaffee holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Redlands, a California Lifetime Teaching Credential, and is admitted to the California Bar.

Why was it necessary to transition from STEM to STEAM?      

As our world has become more technological, STEM was the solution for helping students adapt to the evolving job market by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

However, the STEM model was missing the arts. Teaching students different principles within the arts allows them to learn critical thinking and how to approach problems with creative solutions.

This model also encourages ingenuity and innovation, which are vital puzzle pieces students need to truly be prepared in life. These are skills that are applicable in anyone’s work and personal life.

How can STEAM programs help improve equity?

STEAM allows for more equitable assessments for students as it is multifaceted and allows students who might not succeed in traditional school topics the opportunity to succeed too.

When STEAM was implemented in public schools in areas that were considered impoverished, there were improvements in literacy and science. STEAM programs foster critical thinking, creativity, and improvements in overall student achievement.

In addition, STEAM focuses on the 4Cs of 21st Century Skills which helps students prepare for adult life and the job market. It creates opportunity and equity for students that previously weren’t getting what would be considered a fair education.

How can schools combine STEAM with special education?

There are a few tips that can help the integration of STEAM into special education programs. First, allow some freedom and flexibility in projects; for example, provide some simple measures of how the project will be graded and some basic information.

Then, let the students approach the project creatively and in their own unique way. When presenting a lesson to the class and asking them to solve a problem, allow extra time to come to a solution independently rather than feeling the need to step in.

If you have more abstract content in your lesson, help contextualize it as students with special needs typically understand concrete language better than conceptual.

Come up with fun and creative ways for students to organize their thoughts, such as a think map. Lastly, be cognizant of student accommodations before each lesson.

What are the six steps in creating a STEAM-centered classroom?

First, have a focus, i.e., problem, question, or objective for the day or lesson, and make sure STEM and the arts intersect.

Next, detail background processes or information students already know when looking further into the question or objective. After that, the students should research what solutions exist and if they are working or not. This also allows the teacher to discover any gaps that need to be addressed.

Once the students have gathered all their research, they can apply it to find their own solutions. Students should then create a presentation of their solution and be provided feedback where they can then reflect and possibly create a better solution.

What is the California K-12 Online Content Project? What does it offer?

It is a large set of free digital resources created by the California State Library and Riverside County Office of Education. Gale, National Geographic Kids, Interactive Science, and Environmental Science are the four providers of the resources that focus on STEAM. It’s for use by every public school and student in the state.   

How can it benefit students to reinvent the idea of what a library can be?

Many librarians are creating unique programs for students and homework hubs. Allowing libraries to be outside of the classroom where students can explore STEAM topics can be highly beneficial.

Many studies show that public schools with strong library programs outperform schools without. Other benefits include confidence, personal growth, critical thinking, and communication skills.

What training do schools need to provide to help teachers become STEAM teachers?

Every teacher can be a STEAM teacher, but that doesn’t mean teachers should be thrown into this program without additional training.

Schools can provide courses or information on conferences to deep dive into what STEAM is, how to create the curriculum, and integrate it into the classroom.

Also, if new technologies are in place, teachers should get detailed training into them. There are options now for teachers to enter a STEAM graduate program or gain a STEAM certification.