This summer the BOOMbox, our self-directed STEAM learning space, is looking at topics related to gardening, botany, and ecology and has been dubbed BLOOMbox for the duration of the rotation. We’ve focused on these topics previously and have found our community is really drawn to the hands-on learning associated with gardening alongside discussion topics related to ecology, sustainability, and conservation. We learned a lot from the first go around and here’s an overview of what we’re exploring this summer.

IMG_20190516_180429The rotation is designed to feature about three stations each week, with one always being very hands-on and more maker-based while the others are sometimes discussion or tool based. We use a weekly focus for guidance and began the rotation looking at soil, water, air, and light to setup a good foundation for further learning. Participants always enjoy a planting station, where we provide either small container planters or a station to make biodegradable planters along with soil and a variety of herb seeds. We then connect the planting with discussion about different types of gardening (indoor, outdoor, rooftop, vertical, etc.) and what we can do with the herbs and other produce we can grow. Staff encourage participants to look up recipes on iPads, to draw what they see as their plant grows, and to share their bounty with friends and neighbors.

Maker based stations have included watercolors with botanical prompts for inspiration, blooming paper flowers, paper lotus flowers, and lots of design prompts like design your own bug or bird with a variety of craft supplies. Participants often naturally connect the stations around a single prompt, like this watercolor painting of a paper lotus flower made by a fourth grader.

IMG_20190627_100654Exploration stations feature tools to encourage participants to get outside and experience the nature around the building. We offer Fandex guides for butterflies, bugs, flowers, and trees found in North America. Along with the guides we encourage the use of magnifying glasses and binoculars. Future birders can also checkout our bird watching STEAM kit and really learn more about the birds in our community. Later this summer, we’ll feature our digital microscope to assist participants in dissecting flowers and taking a closer look at the different parts.

IMG_20190627_100640In addition to making or exploration stations, we create our own visuals for inspiration and knowledge with large post-it notes that can be displayed on the wall or window. These posters are made weekly, sometimes with the help of participants, and align with specific topics like animal tracks that can be found in the community and wildlife symbols of Illinois.

We’re looking forward to continuing our learning with the BLOOMbox for the rest of the summer and seeing participants make connections between individual topics as the rotation progresses.