When Rachel Van Hazinga entered the Masters of Education for Experienced Educators at Antioch New England in 2016, she definitely qualified as experienced—she had almost two decades of teaching under her belt. It was just this richness of experience that helped her design and customize the perfect educational experience for herself.
As she began the MEd, Van Hazinga knew that hands-on education—learning by doing—worked for her kindergarten through eighth grade students, and she knew that she wanted to design a similar experience for herself. Specifically, she wanted to learn about the STEAM teaching methodology, with its emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. This tool-based teaching style remains relatively cutting edge in the K-12 teaching world, and Antioch had only begun teaching its principles.
So Van Hazinga decided to self-design a curriculum at Antioch. She didn’t know it at the time, but her approach ended up being the pilot for two new offerings at Antioch New England’s campus: the Integrated STEAM Education Concentration in the MEd program, and the Certificate in Integrated STEAM Education. Today this concentration and the STEAM certification have become core parts of the program that Van Hazinga was once a student in. And Van Hazinga herself recently became an adjunct faculty member at Antioch, teaching in the programs she previously studied in.
Few students have had the impact on their school that Van Hazinga has, so it’s fitting that her path has led her back to her alma mater, now as an instructor.
A Methodology That Includes the Arts
The difference between STEAM and its more traditional predecessor STEM lies in the art component, or the creative approach to learning. This approach may involve fine art, but in this acronym the word “art” means much more. Primarily, it refers to meeting students at their individual level by designing unique systems to help them leverage hard and soft skills to tackle abstract concepts. By integrating concepts and practices of the arts, STEAM uses tools such as data visualization and fine art imagery to deepen students’ understanding of science, math and technology.
Van Hazinga created and runs a STEAM program at the DEAL School in New Jersey, but she says that most states don’t focus on STEAM or even STEM. She describes STEAM as a “Wild West.” As she says, “People are just figuring it out day-to-day, moment-to-moment, tool-to-tool.” Sometimes this is literal—teachers find themselves literally designing physical tools to help students with integrative learning.
Addressing this lack of standardization is a key part of the Integrated STEAM Certification. STEAM teachers often have to create new technology to help concretize the abstract. For example, they might use 3-D printers to distill complicated data sets into easy-to-understand formats or design infographics to help students visualize theoretical concepts. Van Hazinga insists that there’s really no right way—and much of the excitement of being part of the STEAM community lies in helping invent and shape this versatile and evolving field. STEAM teachers do this by sharing on social media, attending conferences, or participating in competitions like STEAMTANK (where Rachel sits on the panel of judges).
Antioch New England remains central to this progressive teaching community, as it is one of the first universities to offer a STEAM certification course.
Finding the Right Program and Community
When Van Hazinga entered the MEd program at Antioch she was seeking greater interaction with like-minded teachers, to exchange ideas and develop her thinking on a higher level. She had grown up in New Hampshire, so she was always aware of Antioch. Based on the experience of friends and family members who were alums, she could tell the community would offer a rigorous space to develop critical skills and advance her practicum. By design, Antioch also has a robust community of working professionals, which created a sense of personal integration for Van Hazinga, something that is critical to her own teaching practice.
Van Hazinga began the program by studying many different teaching techniques, from mindfulness practices with Robert Black and nature-based learning with David Sobel. Initially she was in the Problem-Based Learning concentration, but it was in the course “Instructional Design With Bill Vinton and Al Magnusson” that something really clicked.
Soon after finishing that course, Van Hazinga met with Thomas, who was also her advisor. She had realized that many of her questions about the classroom could be answered through the versatility offered by STEAM. Thomas encouraged Van Hazinga to change from the Problem-Based Learning concentration to the Self-Designed concentration to afford the flexibility with courses that supported her goals as a STEAM facilitator. The program she designed eventually became the model and pilot program for the MEd’s Integrated STEAM Education concentration.
Implementing Pedagogy in the Classroom
In addition to her course work at Antioch, Van Hazinga conducted an observership at a private school in New York City, studying Caroline Pratt’s philosophy of early place based learning. That catalyzed a lot of thinking for her around integration in the classroom.
Eventually, Van Hazinga fused all of these elements in her teaching practice at the DEAL school. Antioch remained Rachel’s space for abstract thinking, and The Deal School was her space for hands-on implementation. Her school’s administration seemed energized by the ideas she was beginning to formulate through her studies at Antioch, and her students loved seeing their teacher as a student in her own right. It gave them the courage and the freedom to be vulnerable and to make mistakes too. Van Hazinga’s classes became a dynamic space for collaborative learning.
Van Hazinga explains that this is why she’s so grateful to have attended the MEd program at Antioch. “To me, every single day of my life since I finished this program, as a teacher, has been better because I was able to bring in what I learned,” she says. “At Antioch … I feel like my out-of the box ideas were accepted. And maybe that’s why I keep those relationships so strong.”
Continued Collaboration and Learning
In 2020 Van Hazinga returned to Antioch to obtain her official STEAM certification, which the program now officially offered. Van Hazinga was especially drawn to the opportunity to study with Jackie Gerstein, an all-star in the world of STEAM education, who had recently come to Antioch as an adjunct, teaching “Introduction to STEAM.” Van Hazinga says that she “was an avid follower of her on Twitter and her regular blog,” so it felt serendipitous to be able to return to take this certification. And it was cool, too, that the certification was based largely on the path that Van Hazinga forged while pursuing her masters.
Today, Antioch is one of the only universities teaching STEAM, providing the STEAM certificate, and creating pathways for students to self-design their curricula.
As an alum Van Hazinga also takes supplemental classes on an as-needed basis, and she has forged friendships with many of her professors. Most excitingly, she has become an adjunct professor at Antioch. In this role, she is able to continue engaging with this evolving learning environment and to give back to it in a new way: as a university-level teacher. She teaches the course “Tech Tools for All Learners,” which builds a collaborative understanding of ‘next generation’ teaching and learning, its roots, and the opportunities it offers. In the course, Van Hazinga facilitates the exploration of technology including when and how to use different tools. Students examine and assess available tools and resources as well as how to best use this technology in their own instruction, in all content areas, in a way that supports all learners. This course is a key component in the integration of STEAM within a school, and already the course has helped many experienced educators transform their instruction and classroom communities with relevant and immediately applicable knowledge.
The importance of strong teaching communities has been particularly apparent during these last two years, as many public schools have quickly reverted to traditional teaching models in response to the pandemic. One of Van Hazinga’s students, Susanna Hargreaves, who took Tech Tools in Spring of 2020, wrote to say, “I just completed my Tech Tools for All Learners Course! It was a great class. I was immediately able to use things I learned to help my students in remote learning.” At the time, she was teaching summer school remotely.
Another of her students in the Tech Tools course, Tamara Tallman, explains that when teachers hear the word ‘tech,’ they ofen experience “an innate sense of panic and self-doubt that they do not know enough [and] are not at a place in their career to learn new things.” But she says that “Rachel has an uncanny ability to silence those voices from the word go! She takes away the scariness of technology and makes you excited to go back to your classroom and use it.”
Van Hazinga explains that teaching STEAM virtually has come with its challenges, but at the same time she has found many opportunities to convene with her colleagues and develop strategies to keep her classroom as energetic and integrated as possible as students return to in person learning.
In some ways, the Self-Designed MEd Program at Antioch was the seed for Rachel—and all of the work she’s done since, both inside and outside of the university, has been the fertilizer. “Every living, breathing part of what I do is because I was able to customize my education,” she says. “I am grateful for Antioch and all that being an Antiochian means! It allows you to find the possibilities within what you’re doing in whatever way you want to approach it.”