Lessons from STEAM

This article was written as a consequence to the visit I entertained at Claires Court Senior Boys, involving a delegation from the Ministry of Education, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – 16 December 2022

One of the many interests I any my colleagues have is the promotion to third parties of the solutions we have as a school settled upon, in part because sharing experiences almost always gives value to the donor as much as they do to the recipient.

When UK colleagues in an ISA school, King Fahad Academy, West London reached out to Claires Court, to facilitate a visit from a Ministry of Education, Saudi Arabia delegation into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM for short), my school was delighted to welcome their party of 9 interested educators and planners. Right from the start of our planning for their visit, we included Arts as well (Art, Design and Music) so we fitted our own ‘take’ on this challenge (STEAM) and added Library Services and Sports in addition, represented by senior colleagues who directly influence our engagement with technology to improve learning outcomes in the school. During their visit, we were accompanied by Ian Nairn & Paul Farrell of C-Learning, who have supported our journey into the use of AI with Merlyn Mind, and Jeremy Waters & Andrew Blackie of Elastik, one of the more remarkable diagnostic tools now available to schools to identify gaps in learning, where they came from and how best to address them.

Claires Court has explored many potential technologies over the decades, most recently including the Veo sports camera which we use to live stream our 1st team Rugby matches. The various GPS devices we use on players and on boats enables us to ‘see’ at the individual level what athletes (and equipment) is doing at any given time, and ensure the feedback gets back to the athletes, if not in real time at least as soon after the event, so they can relate to the data given and respond accordingly. That’s very much what The software Accelerated Reader does the same for Library services and our readers in school, in its own way of course, and I quote from their website “From recognizing students’ achievements to students discovering new interests, Accelerated Reader helps create a culture of reading through choice.

Our visiting delegates were able to see at first hand projects that the various departments have currently under way. Lydia Lowry, Head of Science at Senior Boys demonstrated the 3D printer the STEM club are currently building, whilst in front of her is a papier mache corpse into which are soon to be embedded some mechanical organs for testing for vital life signs.

What was particularly interesting to my staff was to be challenged on ‘where they gathered the ideas from’, as if there exists some kind of easy to reach directory for STEM projects in schools. In our view, the fundamental joy of teaching to our own, designed curriculum as that we can explore ideas in new ways as the students’ interests take us. Head of Biology, Sadia Mirza highlights the point well by showing how we are teaching genetics in a way to stimulate the imaginations of emerging teenage geneticists by using Dragons as our target species.

There was no doubt that the Saudi delegation were particularly impressed by the obvious empowerment as sector professionals our teachers are given to ensure children ask questions to explore solutions, rather than ‘receive’ teaching from which their knowledge can be tested. Below shows some great examples of how we do that using Art & Design, from the sheer productivity evident in a year 10 GCSE sketch book, through examples of furniture designed for my office by Year 7 using Memphis Design approach, and demonstrating how workshop practice is an essential element for creating ‘maker spaces’.

Overarching Head of Technology & ICT André Boulton in his workshop, where radio control cars meet wood stool design.

The delegation spent the whole morning in school with our scientists & technologists, supported with Music (Nick Wolstencroft), Sport (Tom Jost), Google services & their integration into school (Paul Robson), and ICT (Malcolm Weier). I do believe the Ministry major take away was that STEAM is not a bolt-on, something that can be added to the education offer to improve awareness and practical skills, despite the very obvious value of such outcomes alone. In our view, STEAM describes the permissions that need to be given to students (and teachers of course) to acquire the skills so that they willingly engage in meaningful learning activities, ones that involve asking questions, taking thoughtful risks and work through the creative process. Clearly their activities will include taking risks and failure, embrace collaboration such that problems are solved, and inevitably that ‘things are made’!

All the above needs teachers who have been given the time and space to learn how best to develop their STEAM practice so that the children’s education meets modern demands of progress and examination success. A lot of that time and space is given by the very technologies we are embracing along the way. C-Learning’s decade+ support of our learning journey to cloud-based technological solutions has been a major influence for good, providing trustworthy chromebooks that last a student’s time in school as well as an ecosystem that requires max security from little fuss, increasingly supported by AI classroom assistance. Where teachers’ time in the future will be saved too is through the use of diagnostic assessments such as those covered by Elastik’s AI, reducing marking time for teachers to the minimum yet highlighting where the gaps in learning are, so that revision and skill development take place efficiently and without a blame process. In the end, where technology has helped school as much as anything is in its capacity to lead improvement without fuss; nothing puts off a learner more than unreasoned failure, and yet it is through repetition and correcting mistakes that the most effective learning happens, developing in turn the student’s willingness to learn more!!!

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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