The STEAM in Huntsville STEAM Works

Jenn-300x225Jennifer Johnson is an artist, designer, educator, and long-time volunteer for various area youth organizations.

She’s also the Education Director at Huntsville STEAM Works and has written a bit for us about what’s going on there lately!

cropped-steamworkslogocolorToday I watched one of our instructors here at Huntsville STEAM Works expertly employ the gamification of learning on a small group of lower elementary home schooled students. He’s leading them on a grand adventure we call Hereos’ Tale.

26232873_2092450270982858_351984250337428390_oStudents embarked upon this quest over a month ago now. They started with the tentative creation of the fictional characters they would navigate through their journeys.

I smiled to myself that first class meeting as Drew, the instructor, patiently explained his simplified tabletop roleplaying game (similar to Dungeons & Dragons) to the young students. If I recall, every single child wanted their character to learn the sneak skill. Drew indulged them.

It’s been an absolute delight in the ensuing weeks to watch children as young as five roll their dice and add their numbers up with ever-­increasing alacrity as they sneak, think, and battle their way through various obstacles. To listen to a girl (who on her first day here clung silently and timidly to her mother) speak animatedly about the exploits of her amazing cat­-knight makes my day. This student, who is also currently enrolled in our Tinker Lab lower elementary physical science class, says she wishes she could come to Huntsville STEAM Works every day!

26024238_2085979421629943_4666182617832225260_oIt may seem strange to some that a STEAM educational organization and maker space offers classes build upon the premise of tabletop roleplaying games. In fact, Heroes’ Tale is our first attempt at doing so. We have more upcoming, including Dungeons & Dragons for middle and high schoolers over Spring Break, and a variety of options for summer campers for all ages, including a Star Wars iteration, mystery­based games, and an encore of Heroes’ Tale. What does any of this have to do with STEAM education, which is purportedly focused on science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics?

While Heroes’ Tale may be our first class based on a tabletop roleplaying game, gamification of learning is one of our go­to program standards. We’ve used turn­based games like Farmer Brown and Trade Tycoons as a teaching tool for learning about mathematics and economics. Minecraft is always popular, and when skillfully employed is a great resource for student learning a diverse variety of subjects from electronics and programming to history and architecture. This summer, we even have a plan to walk teens through the process of creating their own Escape Room puzzle game, which will then be played through by our upper elementary students.

What makes these classes quintessentially STEAM education is not the use of math or technology (though certainly there is that) but rather creativity and the integration of thinking. The most impactful learning does not occur in isolated subject categories; knowledge without creativity and emotional engagement is disconnected from meaning. The STEAM education movement, at least as I see it, is not simply a STEM­-buzzword­-with-­a-­token­-A, but a purposeful movement towards holistic, human­-centered 21st­century learning. The STEM movement drew attention to the physical needs of a dawning 21st­-century technology­-focused world. In contrast, the STEAM reminds us that now that we’re firmly planted in this century, all those gadgets and gizmos are only as important as the lives they improve and the stories they inspire.

The STEAM movement, in short, is about fostering a culture of creation. Whether you create code or computers, music or machines, objects or origami, images or ideas, you are a creator.

We here at Huntsville STEAM Works invite you to join that movement. We boast workspace, workshops, classes, tools, and most importantly, a learning community that can help you embark upon your own grand adventure, wherever it may take you.

Upcoming March Events: ­

  • 3/14: Pi Day Celebration and Coworking Night ­
  • 3/17: North Alabama Makers Meetup ­
  • 3/26: Spring Break Camps, Kindergarten­ – Adult

More information and registration available at

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