As Lead Teacher at Ann Arbor STEAM at Northside, Ryan Bruder inspires innovation. He collaborates with teachers to develop and facilitate project-based learning that connects to the curriculum in authentic ways.
Ryan Bruder has been teaching with Ann Arbor Public Schools for six years. He began teaching the fourth grade at Allen Elementary, after which he took the position of Lead Teacher/STEAM Coordinator working Ann Arbor STEAM at Northside. This was an opportunity for him to work with a program while it was built from the ground up and learn from this process.In his prior years, he was able to bring project-based learning into his classroom, an accomplishment that he thanks his administrator for supporting. This was an element that he was able to bring to Northside’s budding STEAM program. As Lead Teacher, he supports the faculty in developing and facilitating projects in the classroom, connecting those projects to the curriculum, and fostering a great deal of collaboration.
A Paragon of Collaboration
Ryan has a true passion for education, especially toward project-based learning. He is a paragon of collaboration, citing all of the work that has gone into Northside’s initiative in project-based STEAM education as a team effort. In terms of growth in STEAM/project-based education, he believes the key is balance through placing emphasis equally among project development, community-building, and classroom management. Along with his fellow faculty and staff, he has created a truly unique learning experience.
A Unique Approach to STEAM
The STEAM model focuses on project-based education combining Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. This innovative model aims to connect these subjects rather than focusing on each separately as a more traditional model. This draws connections between all of these subjects and aims to create a continuum of learning.What makes A2STEAM@Northside unique from the traditional model is that it focuses on project-based learning. These projects vary greatly, with units ranging in duration from a week to year-long projects. Following the Buck Institute Model for Project-Based Learning, A2STEAM@Northside connects projects with curriculum and core standards to engage students in learning. The projects allow students to be able to work within multiple subjects to enhance overall learning.One of the most beneficial aspects of the school is that students build collaborative skills that translate into the 21st century. Students are engaged not just in the projects, but the creation and direction of these projects. This has a very positive impact on student learning and development, and, though it might be challenging for students to transition to a traditional school after eighth grade, these skills can be vital to students’ professional lives beyond school.A2STEAM@Northside only recently adopted STEAM model. Prior to this, it was classified as a Title 1 school and had a diminished population. In the summer of 2014, Northside Elementary reconstructed its program with a project-based initiative, placing Ryan in an integral role as Lead Teacher/STEAM Coordinator. When the school opened as a STEAM program, it roughly doubled in population due to students signing up from nearby schools. For some of these new students, it was an opportunity for a change of pace. Northside’s project-based structure provided a more hands-on approach to education, which can provide a huge benefit to overall learning.
Creating Culture, Community and Collaboration
Creating a sense of culture can be a challenge for a new program in this way, especially as many of the new students commuted from other areas. From the beginning, Northside had a goal of facilitating a lot of community events, ranging from academic support to cooking classes. These programs served to do a great deal to bring students, parents, and teachers together build a true sense of community and positive relationships. Each class has a meeting every morning in order to create Responsive Classrooms, for which the teachers each received training. The goal of the Responsive Classroom setting was to both instill a sense of culture as well as to aid with behavioral management. In addition, the school instituted a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support program to better acclimate students to the school its culture.One of the most beneficial additions to the school’s culture was holding expos. In these, students display projects for parents to see and are taught to interact with them in a friendly, professional manner. Not only is this a huge element for community-building, it also provides students with 21st century skills of interaction and presentation. As Dr. Jeff Kupperman, a parent in the program, states, “There was a professionalism among the kids that must have been deliberately cultivated, and that I thought was something that you don’t really get in an elementary school. That was a real cultural difference.”Creating a culture of collaboration with the staff and faculty was another primary goal of Northside’s STEAM initiative. One of the biggest challenges was the staffing, having some of the new teachers being hired so close to (and some even after) the beginning of the school year. To achieve this, the school has done a lot to build a sense of community among teachers through teambuilding activities, and the teachers are afforded daily time to collaborate and share ideas and experiences. The teachers have the professional/life experiences that make these projects and programs possible, and are accomplished in these ways, from artists to engineers to computer programmers. This provides a level of authenticity for the students.
Goal: Growth Mindset
One of the goals of the school is to foster a growth mindset. Teachers work not just as teachers but facilitators to empower students to learn and grow and set them up to be successful. “I think that (growth mindset) is teaching our students and empowering our students to be active participants in their own education, really showing them that they are the doers, and we are helping them throughout the way”, Ryan stated. “Really, what we say is if you are doing project-based learning right, your role is no longer teacher; it’s more as a facilitator.”