Parading the halls: Decas Elementary students show off their STEAM projects

Nov 29, 2021

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade might have more spectators, but the students at John W. Decas Elementary put on an impressive parade of their very own on Wednesday, Nov. 24. 

Groups of second graders marched the halls during the last half-day before Thanksgiving, holding their hand-made parade boxes — essentially parade “balloons,” but sturdier — as high as they could. The school’s younger students lined the halls, clapping and cheering for their older peers as the parade went by. 

The parade was the culmination of a STEAM project that was weeks in the making. (STEAM refers to an educational approach that combines science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.) 

The parade was conceptualized and brought to life by Decas’ new STEAM teacher, Elizabeth Hayes. 

“A big part of STEAM is them learning collaboration and working in teams and being able to think of an idea, draw it and design it and put it into work,” Hayes said.

She said she’d heard of other teachers doing this project with actual balloons.

“I was like, ‘I need to change that, because I don’t think they’re going to stay inflated,’” she said with a laugh. “So I came up with the boxes.” 

The project stretched over the weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving break. 

“We started by learning about the Macy’s Parade and how people in their parade design the balloons, how helium works,” Hayes explained.

After that, she said the students were put into teams to design their boxes. Working as a team, Hayes said the students were allowed to choose whatever design they liked. The week before the parade, they actually built the boxes.

Although the second graders were the only ones who participated in the parade, they weren’t the only students who learned from the parade lesson. 

Hayes said that the youngest students learned about the balloons and drew designs of their own. The first graders actually designed and built boxes in teams “as kind of like a practice,” she said. They were told that next year they’d get to be in the parade, Hayes noted. 

“We’re trying to scaffold it through each grade so that they have something to look forward to when they get to second grade,” she said. “And I figured it’d be a fun way for them to spend a half-day and show off all the hard work they’ve been doing.”

With a Decas Thanksgiving parade now in the books, Hayes is already looking forward to the next STEAM lesson. 

“We’re getting ready to learn the science of snowflakes,” she said. “So it’s symmetry, how snowflakes are formed — they’re going to get to use different patterns to make snowflakes.” 

She also mentioned some projects that would be possible after winter break, when students begin attending classes at the new Wareham Elementary School. 

“Some things we’re going to get to look forward to when we get to our new school is building floats that they actually have to float in water,” she said. “Building bridges that have to hold a certain amount of pennies.”

Teamwork and trial and error will be central to the lessons, Hayes said. 

“Really a lot of team focus so that they can learn those communication skills, those collaboration skills,” she said. “And following the process of planning it, building it, trying it and if it doesn’t work, finding a way to fix it and make it better.”

Hayes also noted that after more than a year of learning largely in isolation, STEAM projects feel especially valuable. 

“STEAM is giving (students) an opportunity to work together and be a part of that group, where last year we weren’t able to do that as much,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for them to be able to do it this year and just be excited.”