By. Dr. Jami Frost, Claire Cyr, Colleen Cauffiel, Craig Hurley, and Catherine Padgett, Ford Elementary School (Acworth, Georgia)


Imagine the excitement when first graders at Ford Elementary School in Acworth, Georgia present an integrated STEAM project, the 3 PIGGY OPERA, to their parents and community!  Through the collaborative effort of classroom, art, music, and STEM teachers, students explore all aspects of the well-known story.  Students begin the unit of study by learning the literary elements of the children’s classic “The Three Little Pigs” in their classrooms.  In music class the students act out the story adding songs, sound effects, and simple props.  While exploring their life science study of animal habitats, students discover that shelter is one of the basic needs of animals. They then work collaboratively in the STEM Lab to design and build a wolf-resistant shelter while combining the elements of science, math, and engineering to solve a problem. In art class first graders work to create piggy masks using shapes and measurement to design each unique mask for the opera performance. All these elements culminate in a sharing day where parents are invited to a special class where they watch a performance of the 3 PIGGY OPERA and see the team designed “Pig Habitats” get tested against the “Big, Bad Wolf,” also known as the big, bad hair dryer!  Students are not only ecstatic to share what they have learned about the story and its elements, but also about the process used to design and build their wolf-resistant shelter.


The arts offer a unique opportunity for students to express their personal creativity while solving unique problems.  For example, how can sound be represented visually in a two-dimensional work of art? The arts also connect multiple disciplines in a meaningful way. At Ford, we offer one STEAM lesson each semester to grades K-5.  This might be an activity where Kindergarten students use unifix cubes in music class to represent their original melody; third grade students create an abstract collage of various textures and layers to represent sedimentary rock formations in art class; or fourth grade students study the science of sound and create an original notation system to represent bird calls.  Students who sing a folk song from Ghana and create rhythm patterns to accompany it do not even realize that they are using math skills (patterns), social studies (Ghana culture), and language arts (meter, expression) in addition to the various music skills they are mastering. Ford’s performing arts program offers second grade students who engineer monarch habitats a program called “Rosie and the Butterfly” that celebrates the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail in Georgia through which Ford’s monarch habitats have received certification.




How about Technology in STEAM? In the STEM Lab fifth grade students use SCRATCH to design their own video games which will later be controlled with a Makey Makey Invention Device.  They will utilize their prior knowledge of electric circuits, conductors, and insulators to choose objects that will interact with the Makey Makey. Fourth grade students use their iPads and their choice of applications to create a digital model of the water cycle, while third graders research the regions of Georgia to create a digital survival guide for a Georgia Region. Through their music rotations 5th grade students use the Garage Band App to create original compositions, while third graders create animal compositions and record them in the keyboard lab.


As a certified Georgia STEM school and an internationally recognized AdvancED STEM school, Ford Elementary is passionate about integrating the arts within STEM and we believe that there is a natural connection between the arts and innovation, problem solving, and creativity. Through place-based/project-based learning and citizen science connections, Ford’s students are focusing on problem solving and curriculum integration involving ecosystems and habitats unique to Ford’s 45 acre campus. With the help of field experts, volunteer Earth Parents, teachers, and partners, we are empowering students to make a difference on their campus and in their community.


As an end of the year celebration of STEAM, Ford hosts its annual Evening in the Garden, an event that showcases an art show, the performing arts, creative writing, and yearlong units of study such as Monarchs Across Georgia, vermiculture, aquaponics and hydroponics, STEM, and place-based learning projects.  This much anticipated event set amidst Ford’s many gardens draws close to a thousand attendees from our school and community, and recognizes the hard work and achievements of our staff and students.




Through collaborative teamwork and various creative projects, STEAM offers many opportunities for students to improve their 21st century skills: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication and Collaboration, Global Awareness, Initiative and Self-direction, Flexibility and Adaptability, and Effective Interaction with Others.


As a 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, Ford offers many opportunities to reach out to other educators and organizations to share our journey toward STEAM and environmental education.  We have worked closely with the Georgia Green Building Council (GGBC) for the last three years, and were the first elementary school to enter and win the GGBC’s “Green Your School Competition.” We are excited to offer a pre-conference tour of our award winning program at Ford Elementary on March 20th, prior to the Green Schools Conference and Expo on March 21st and 22nd here in Atlanta.  We are bringing a team of teachers and administrators to the conference as well to learn from the “best of the best” how to become a more sustainability focused school.  Please join us on March 20th as we share our story!


About the Authors

Dr. Jami Frost has been the principal at Ford Elementary School for the past seven years. Under her leadership, Ford Elementary received the 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School award, Georgia STEM School certification, and AdvancED STEM certification. She received her doctorate from Auburn University.


Claire Cyr is an Artist in Residence at Ford Elementary and holds a MAED from the University of Phoenix. She has taught at Ford for ten years.


Colleen Cauffiel is the STEM instructor at Ford Elementary and coordinates the school’s STEM program. She holds a BS in Clinical Laboratory Science and a Masters degree in Science Education. Ms. Cauffiel has been at Ford for seven years.


Craig Hurley is the music instructor at Ford Elementary and holds a BS in Music Education and a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education. He has been at Ford for six years.


Catherine Padgett is the environmental education/project-based learning coordinator at Ford Elementary and holds a BS in Elementary Education (K-8). She has taught reading and math in multiple grade levels and has coordinated the environmental education program at Ford for the past 23 years.