Students at Lawson Early Childhood School explore the world of coding with Bee Bots in the school’s STEAM Lab. (Courtesy of Lawson Early Childhood School)

McKinney ISD has been named a 2017 District of Distinction by District Administration magazine for its Pre-K STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) Lab at Lawson Early Childhood School which houses the district’s Pre-K, Head Start and PPCD programs.

Each year, the Districts of Distinction recognition program spotlights school districts across the country “that are leading the way with new ideas that work,” according to the District Administration magazine website.

The STEAM Lab at Lawson, which has existed in its current state for a year, had its beginnings about three years ago as a Makerspace project in the school’s library.

“We called it ‘Playkerspace,’” said Lawson Principal Susie Towber. “Kelly McKee coined that term because it wasn’t just a Makerspace; we were teaching our kids the importance of learning and play. So, we called it Playkerspace.”

Informed by feedback from staff and their experiences with Playkerspace, the idea for the STEAM Lab took root, grew and then became a reality with a Pre-K grant that provided the funds to carve out a dedicated space equipped with smart tables, magnetic boards, Bee Bots and other learning tools.

The STEAM Lab gave teachers more resources to help their students develop vital skills: perseverance, collaboration, problem-solving, math skills, higher-level vocabulary and metacognition—skills they will need down the road for success in college and career.

“We looked at, ‘What does Amazon want?’ ‘What does Google want?’ ‘What are all these different corporations looking for?’” Towber explained. “They’re looking for kids that can problem solve, that can collaborate, that have that grit, that never give up. So, that’s what the STEAM Lab does. Because there’s never any one solution to the lessons or problems that we give them. They have to learn to listen to one another. They have to learn to accept other people’s ideas.They have to learn skills that we need in K-12, and we’re doing it in Pre-K. So, we’re creating this foundation where kids learn to be successful in a collaborative group,” she said.

Students visited the STEAM Lab every other week last year and rotated monthly through four stations connected by an overarching theme such as “energy.” Two of the stations were teacher led while two offered independent learning opportunities. Lessons were created by the administrative team and driven by the state’s Prekindergarten Guidelines.

MISD Superintendent Dr. Rick McDaniel was pleased with the recognition from District Administration magazine. “I believe that this award further exemplifies our commitment to all kids and the tremendous work being done by Lawson Early Childhood School,” he said. “Congratulations to Susie Towber and her staff for putting together a unique learning experience for our kids.”

Although the children at Lawson are taking their first steps on a long educational journey, Towber is resolute that she and her staff will have a positive impact on how those students arrive at the destination 12 years from now—and encourages others to do the same.

“I just want everyone to understand the importance of early childhood education and that we are creating the foundation for children in MISD,” she said. “Our kids deserve the very, very best education, and it’s so important for early intervention and early childhood education. If we could [create a STEAM Lab] in an early childhood school, anybody can do it anywhere.”

For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or smauldin@mckinneyisd.net.