Enhance Executive Functioning with STEAM

How do we unlock a learning environment filled with excited, on-task learners who effectively collaborate and discuss the lesson’s content? The key is implementing lessons that develop skills essential for success. These vital skills include time management, goal setting, organization, self-monitoring, flexible thinking, working memory, impulse control and emotional control.

Many K-12 educators strive to create activities that establish and strengthen these valuable skills. Collaborative, interactive STEAM lessons naturally foster learners’ executive functioning skills.

Executive functioning is the term used to describe neurological processes that occur in the frontal lobe of the brain. These processes allow us to control and regulate important behaviors (DiTullio, 2018). The three core components of executive functioning are working memory, mental flexibility and self-control. Children are not born with these skills intact — they are learned through both the home and classroom environments.

PCS Edventures’ programs seamlessly intertwine hands-on STEAM activities with opportunities that strengthen executive functioning skills. This blog post explores how two programs, BrickLAB Core for Grades 1-6 and Discover Drones for Grades 7-12, promote and reinforce learners’ executive functioning.

Read to discover how STEAM programs can enhance executive functioning skills within learners.

Time Management & Goal-Setting:

Beginning a new assignment can feel daunting to children who struggle with planning, prioritizing and task initiation. Fortunately, the explicit routines and expectations in STEAM activities easily strengthen time management and goal-setting skills.

PCS Edventures’ programs have clear, consistent routines that maximize student learning. Take the structure of BrickLAB Core, for example. While each lesson is a new, multi-subject learning experience, they all follow the same schedule:

  • an engaging anticipatory set
  • a clear introduction to the concep
  • guided, independent practice with prompted discussions
  • exciting, independent challenges
  • a closure to connect student learning

While learners progress through our program’s twelve, exciting lessons, they quickly master this routine. A clear understanding of what comes next is crucial to planning and maximizing time. Before you know it, they are independently setting goals to quickly and effectively accomplish STEAM tasks!

Our highly engaging program, Discover Drones, utilizes comprehensive task cards called LABCards to develop routines. They set explicit expectations for constructing and flying drones, as well as mastering academic STEM concepts. Each one outlines the task from the start and explains skills, objectives, materials and content information in a similar layout. This helps students navigate lessons easily and motivates them to use their time wisely to accomplish each exciting objective!

Interested in more exhilarating programs that provide learners with clear routines? Check out our blog post, A Year of STE(A)M Enrichment, and discover how enrichment bundles enhance instruction year-round!

Organization:

Learners love tinkering with manipulatives during hands-on STEAM lessons. Engineering with various materials reinforces students’ organizational skills.

Our programs offer many exciting, hands-on items for learners to work with during lessons. Our colorful signature Perfect Bricks are used in BrickLAB Core's engineering challenges, while drones, equipment and LABCards spark engagement in Discover Drones.

Managing these materials can be tricky for children who love engineering, but struggle with executive functioning. PCS Edventures include perfect organizing solutions so finding, using and cleaning up items is a breeze.


It’s amazing how our programs naturally develop children’s organizational skills as they work through lessons!

Self-Monitoring:

For students to thrive, they must take ownership of their learning. To be independent and achieve academic goals, children must self-monitor, or determine whether their behavior contributes to success. Two things are necessary for that to occur — activities with clear, accessible expectations and ample opportunities for self-reflection. PCS Edventures’ STEAM challenges are easy to follow, creating the perfect opportunity for learners to monitor their independence in completing tasks.

Let’s look at two major resources included in BrickLAB Core's curriculum — building plans and worksheets. Both have easy-to-follow, clearly written steps and visuals supporting the task. Learners independently use these resources to complete STEAM activities, strengthening their ability to be self-directed. Using the materials as a guide, students verify that their on-task behavior contributes to achieving the lesson's goals.

The LABCards supplied in Discover Drones are valuable tools for creating a positive, student-led experience. The STEM lesson is split into feasible components. As a result, it’s easy to monitor progress through the card’s tasks. What’s more, there’s an enticing point system — each time a component is completed, points are earned. Students monitor their work to ensure that each step is finished before moving on. Not to mention, earning points is a great incentive to remain on task!

Do your learners need additional support with self-monitoring during lessons? Our FREEBIE has you covered! With this Executive Functioning Checklist, students evaluate executive functioning goals during any STEAM activity!

Download Freebie

Flexible Thinking & Working Memory:

STEAM instruction is perfect for stretching learners’ brains! Engineering practices embed trial and error, so they quickly recognize the importance of thinking flexibly during hands-on challenges. Both of our featured products engage with thrilling engineering tasks. Tasks teach that sometimes final products differ from the first try, or even the second or third! From this, children learn that things change along the way and might turn out differently than planned. But this is awesome — growth is celebrated! A growth mindset requires flexible thinking and the ability to look at things in a new light.

For more on the importance of fostering a growth mindset, check out our blog post: Growth vs. Fixed Mindset: How to Create an Engaging Learning Environment.

Additionally, both featured programs encourage learners to identify and apply important information during the lesson. When recalling key information to complete STEAM tasks, working memory expands. Working memory allows the brain to connect new information with past information, all while keeping track of the task at hand. Strengthening working memory helps organize the new information in long-term storage (Rosen, 2021). Our carefully designed lessons build upon each other, adding valuable information to students’ ever-expanding bank of knowledge.

Impulse Control & Emotional Control:

Working together during thrilling, hands-on challenges requires patience, empathy and self-restraint. Collaborative STEAM tasks are necessary for developing both impulse control and emotional control.

The exhilarating design challenges in BrickLAB Core and Discover Drones require learners to work together. Through these activities, children gain an understanding of how their behavior impacts the group and their ability to complete the design-build. Due to their desire to complete the task, they reflect on behavior and make adjustments. Controlling impulses is key to achieving desired STEAM goals!

One of the most amazing outcomes of our programs is that peers connect and build relationships. Working with various people can be tricky — emotional control is continually practiced and strengthened through our tasks. Together, children learn how to work together and celebrate each other's strengths. They react appropriately to situations and recognize their peers' emotions. A powerful, empathic learning community blossoms from collaborative STEAM programs.

Read our blog, STEM for SEL Support, and dive even deeper into the importance of social and emotional learning.

Conclusion:

Having taken the time to understand how control over valuable skills optimizes a child's learning potential, let's get started! Our ready-to-use STEAM programs are key to strengthening learners’ executive functioning skills. Watch students excel as you collaborate, design and build together!

How does STEAM encourage executive functioning in your learning environment?

Tell us in the comments below.


Author: Marissa Rosol

As a 4th-grade elementary teacher and instructional coach, Marissa believes hands-on learning is the key to student engagement. Her love for literacy, STEAM and student collaboration guides her instruction and professional development sessions.



References:

Diamond, Adele. (2014, Oct. 28). Want to Optimize Executive Functions and Academic Outcomes?: Simple, Just Nourish the Human Spirit. Minnesota symposia on child psychology (Series) vol. 37 (2014): 205-232. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4210770/

DiTullio, Gina. (2018, Nov. 9). Helping Students Develop Executive Function Skills. Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/helping-students-develop-executive-function-skills

Hill Learning Center. (2022, June 9). 7 Executive Functioning Skills Your Child Should Have - Hill Learning Center. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from https://www.hillcenter.org/7-executive-functioning-skills-your-child-should-have/#:~:text=The%20fundamental%20skills%20related%20to,%2C%20time%20management%2C%20and%20organization

Rosen, Peg. (2021, June 8). What Is Working Memory? Understood, Understood for All Inc., Retrieved September 1, 2022, from https://www.understood.org/en/articles/working-memory-what-it-is-and-how-it-works

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