October 22, 2019

How to Integrate STEAM and Service Learning in Middle School


STEAM, Service Learning and Middle School Kids- What a Great Mix!

How do you get 7th and 8th graders excited about school? Give them voice and ownership over a service learning project and allow them to understand the impact it will have in the community. That’s how we developed our middle school STEAM service learning project- Outdoor Feral Cat Homes for Homeless Cats.


How we approached the STEAM project:

We understood that this project would only be successful if students understood the plight of feral cats.  Specifically, they learned about feral cats– what they are and how we can help them. Feral cats live outside and can not be socialized to live inside. Many shelters run a TNR program- to Trap, Neuter and Release them back to the community- so they do not reproduce and increase the population. Students also learned about the roll that shelters play in our community. They were surprised to learn that cats and dogs who end up there often are there because of human issues (moving, divorce, loss of job, etc.) and not the animal’s behavior.  They also learned how many animals are in need of homes- millions of dogs and cats across America are in shelters every day- and the need a home! We decided to make feral cat enclosures and donate them to the Westchester Humane Society.

Denise Cassano cat enclosure

Cats have already moved right in!

Once students saw the need, we designed “practice” cat enclosures out of foam core. They had to measure, cut and assemble the boxes in the same way we would make the real life ones. They included a shelf so the cat could get off the cold ground, and two openings (one being an escape route). They learned that measuring accurately is important!

Denise Cassano cat enclosure interior

Inside of the cat home. The pink is insulation. There is a shelf so cats can get off the cold ground.







Our finished boxes were made or outdoor treated lumber, professional grade materials and insulation within the area the cat stayed.  We are lucky enough to have a tech program that still has power tools and teaches hands on skills. This was key! Students learned how to use jig saws, power drills and sanders. We assembled the boxes with screws and epoxy. The roofs were covered with material to protect them from rain and snow. The best part was the delivery- students got to see where the cat houses would go and they were treated to a tour of the Westchester Humane Society. They learned about the shelter and the awesome need for the houses in the entire community (many were donated out to community members).


Cat enclosure with two openings and a slanted roof

The students were so invested in the project, as teachers we decide to do it again this year and donate to another shelter. There are so many animals in need, as well as others in our community. Have students find that need, then brainstorm ways they can build things to help them.

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  1. Maria

    I love that you’re helping homeless animals!

    • Thanks! We are doing another project this year for a different shelter. It’s so important to teach kids how to treat animals.

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