Why Choose Santiago STEAM Magnet? What is Project Based Learning?

In January of 2018, Saddleback Valley School District gave our little school in the woods a new vision – to become a STEAM Magnet school focused on Project-Based-Learning.

A New Selection of Highly Trained Teachers

This started with an extensive search for a new teaching staff. Teachers from across the district were invited to apply. Several rounds of interviews and in-class observations were used to select teachers who were already highly trained and qualified, but most importantly – had a true desire to jump into the exciting and challenging world of Project-Based Learning.

Our selected teachers began additional training, attending conferences and symposiums, and began planning units – before the school year at their previous school even ended.

What is Project Based Learning?

Developed by the Buck Institute and improved in many ways since, Project Based Learning is a teaching method being implemented nationwide, although not many schools in Orange County have implemented it fully. Santiago STEAM focuses on providing High Quality Project Based Learning Standards, also known as HQPBL, which is outlined in a framework sponsored and supported by Buck Institute for Education, Project Management Institute Educational Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Instead of completing a final project to present what you’ve learned, Project-Based Learning is a vehicle for students to learn the standards as they create their intermediate and final deliverables (projects).

How is PBL implemented at Santiago?

Our students will engage in multiple Project-Based Learning Units throughout the school year. A unit can be 4-12 weeks long, and centers around a Driving Question that sustains student inquiry throughout the project. Driving Questions are different at each grade level. Teachers at the same grade level develop their Unit plan together with the assistance and approval of other staff, and have cross-class activities whenever possible, so students in every class are given an equitable education. Teachers begin planning each unit with CA Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and CA Content Standards, to ensure that students are achieving proficiency in their grade level standards.


Over the course of a PBL Unit, your student will encounter various components:
1.    Exploration of the topic, real-world applications, and related careers.
2.    Art activities related to the topic encouraging creativity.
3.    Science activities related to the topic encouraging generation of questions, exploration, and revisions to thinking
4.    Construction Engineering activities related to the topic encouraging building design techniques with various materials and problem solving.
5.    Exploring uses of new technology such as robotics, coding, presentation tools, video production, and more
6.    Assessments and tasks that evaluate student proficiency toward mastering the grade level standards being taught through the project
7.    A live or virtual connection to an Expert in the topic or related industry to enhance an experience, feedback, or real-world connections
8.    Creation of project teams across the grade level, encouraging collaboration and teamwork skills, to create a solution to a real-world problem.
9.    Creation of a Final Deliverable, which is a project that encompasses the knowledge they have learned through the unit.
10. Presentation of a final project to the public – at one of our three Ignite Nights – where parents and community members are encouraged to review and provide valuable feedback to students.

With a solid implementation, PBL creates life-long learners who never stop questioning the world around them. This reinforces valuable skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity. exploration with trial and error, teamwork skills, and presentation skills.

Un-Homework Policy

At Santiago STEAM, all work will be completed in the classroom during school hours.  There will not be any required homework assignments.   Studies have NOT shown any correlation that Homework increases students ability to learn the skills taught during the elementary years. You may see examples of your students classwork come home, such as sentences and paragraphs written during exploration and discussion of a topic.  

Instead of Homework, family time and other enrichment activities are encouraged. Students have access to login to ST Math from home – an online learning system that advances the student through engaging Math activities demonstrating the math skills expected to be learned at the grade level. Oftentimes, we have several students who complete the basic levels for their grade by Winter Break – and then spend the spring advancing on to the challenge levels which reinforce and introduce advanced concepts.

When are subjects taught? Are the projects covering all the State Standards?

While the PBL Unit provides a focus to learn about real-world issues, there are many other time blocks set aside each week to practice and learn new skills or focus on a specific subject. In the course of an average week, your student will likely encounter the following time blocks:

  1. A visit to our school library to check out a book to return the following week.
  2. Physical Education activities and games on the field with our P.E. instructors
  3. Music Class with our 2 music teachers in the STEAM Lab or MPR (K and 1st visit music every other week. 3rd graders begin using the recorder. At other SVUSD schools, music instruction does not begin until 4th grade)
  4. Social Emotional Lesson from the Second Step Program focusing on topics such as empathy.
  5. Reading Groups -each grade splits into leveled reading groups with students at a similar reading ability. One of our classroom or intervention teachers leads each group in targeted instruction at their level and buddy reading activities. This allows each student to be challenged at the level that is right for them. Similar to other SVUSD schools, Santiago has GATE (Gifted and Talented) clusters at each grade level. Testing for GATE begins in 2nd grade.
  6. Math Instruction and time to complete independent ST Math levels. ST Math software allows every student to advance at their own pace and adapts to the students skill level.
  7. Plenty of recess time. Our Kindergarten playground is gated, while our 1-6 graders enjoy a large open wooded area. 

If you are unfamiliar with the California State Standards, think of them as a checklist of skills that schools nationwide are expected to cover at each grade level. Teachers assess regularly and keep track of each students progress toward showing independent mastery of each skill. Santiago STEAM has integrated all State Standards into the curriculum, including Next Generation Science Standards, and we are leading the way in implementing the Computer Science Standards that California will be officially adopting later this year.

How are Students Graded and Tested?

SVUSD no longer uses traditional A-F grades at the elementary level. Instead a simpler 1-4 score is presented on report cards and at Parent Teacher conferences to show how the student is progressing in reaching standards-based goals.

Students will received feedback from teachers and peers during project presentations. But it is not in the form of a formal score or grade. Students are not ranked or encouraged to compete in the elementary level. Parent Teacher conferences happen multiple times during the year and students are invited to attend and understand the importance of their progress.

Santiago STEAM promotes Growth Mindset ideas to prevent students from thinking that certain kids are “smart” or “not good at math” but instead to teach that practice makes progress and exercising your brain helps it to grow and be a life-long learner. At the elementary level students are encouraged to explore without the fear of failure.

What is STEAM? What does it mean to be a STEAM Magnet School?

STEAM is an Acronym standing for Science – Technology – Engineering – Art – Mathematics. Frequently used together to represent activities that promote problem solving, critical thinking and design skills, and exploration of technology and science. STEAM is the what behind our project-based learning units, and teachers meaningfully integrate science, technology, engineering, and math within their units. When planning, teachers begin with the grade level expectations in science and connect it to the rest of the content areas. Students are still taught reading, writing, and history-social science, but these standards are presented to students through a connection to STEAM.

As a Magnet School, Santiago STEAM has both students who live within an attendance boundary and students who are “attracted” to the school for unique learning experiences. The general goal of magnet schools is to create a very diverse student population which has benefits for all students. Santiago already has very diverse neighborhoods within our attendance zone, and we welcome families from both inside and outside of the SVUSD district.