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STEAM educator ignites love of learning

04/08/15

C:\fakepath\Dana S.jpgRecently hired by MCLA through the Improving Teacher Quality (ITQ) grant, Dana Schildkraut collaborates with preschool through second grade teachers in the region as she models lessons in their classrooms and provides support as they implement STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum.

The goal? To increase young children’s academic achievement through the five content areas, used together to fully engage their young minds in a well-rounded, multidisciplinary way.  

For example, last week Schildkraut (right) taught kindergarten and first grade students about evergreens and conifers.

“The lesson married life science, English language arts, and musical and visual arts.  We even had a bit of math in there,” she explained. “Students closely observed cones from a spruce tree. We sang a song about how conifers use cones as a container for their seeds. Students used Play-doh to make imprint art and experience the textural properties of the cone.”

Like many educators, Schildkraut feels she is a lifelong learner. After attending Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., where earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree, she went on to complete her Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), specializing in art education.

“I love the culture of learning that you find at an academic institution,” Schildkraut said. “In higher education, there's a special energy because people are always working to create, to make something new or different, to learn and discover, to push the boundaries and, ultimately, to grow.  To me, it's an environment that cultivates the best in people.”

Because of her expertise in bringing theater and visual arts together – particularly through mask and puppetry exploration and creation – Schildkraut hopes to incorporate mask and puppet making into future STEAM lessons.

“One of my favorite experiences was working with iLuminate – a unique dance company – as a mask and puppet maker. The company itself is a great example of art and technology coming together,” she explained. “I also work with Arm-of-the-Sea Theater, a company that tells tales of ecology through remarkable mask and puppet performances.”

Schildkraut said it’s important that the children love the learning process.

“I hope that they’ll continue to see school as a place of adventure, fun and wonder.  I hope that their teachers will nurture the sense of inquiry in them and let them know that trial and error is an important way to obtain knowledge,” she said.   

“Furthermore, I hope they'll take the activities, songs, and information from these STEAM lessons outside the classroom and recreate them at home. When the learning extends outside of the classroom, then you know it’s going to ‘stick’ for the students.  

“Most importantly, I hope that the classroom teachers feel inspired by the STEAM lessons, and feel that their ‘lifetime learner’ flame is being ignited – or re-ignited,” Schildkraut added. “I want them to remember how powerful they are in their students’ lives, and take advantage of that by keeping an open mind throughout this collaboration with the ITQ program.” 

MCLA is the lead partner for the Berkshire Early Learning Lab ITQ program, which includes the North Adams, Adams-Cheshire Regional and Northern Berkshire School Union school districts, Child Care of the Berkshires, Berkshire Head Start, the Berkshire Museum, the Clark Art Institute and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA).