By February 29, 2016 Blogs, Primary Campus News

I’m sure parents are aware of all the talk about STEM, referring to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. There has been much discussion amongst economists and politicians about the importance these subjects have for Australia’s future in the global context and therefore the need for schools to promote what have traditionally been seen as “hard” subjects; the ‘natural’ domain of boys and subjects requiring a particular style of learning.

However, STEM, with the addition of A, Art, becomes fused with so many more possibilities. STEAM suddenly captures the potential of education in the post-internet age. It represents a genuinely transformative approach to learning and speaks the language our kids have already learned as digital natives. A STEAM approach is intrinsically multi-disciplinary; it requires collaboration, invention and lateral thinking.

STEAM also represents a very effective style of learning by drawing on a similar, and often ignored, capacity of the human brain to cement learning through Mnemonics, encoding information in the memory using visual imagery. By integrating Art with Mathematics, or any of the STEM subjects with Design, for example, the possibilities become endless – and accessible for all learners.

Also, the inter-disciplinary connections suggested by a STEAM approach are the basis of most real-life learning. Finding solutions, inventing new products and making art all rely on the awe-inspiring capacity of the human brain to make unexpected connections and see relationships; the strict boundaries between disciplines actually inhibit creative formulations and innovation.

In recent times the insistence on strict discipline-based learning has endured as a function of an education system where teachers are the repositories of key knowledge, which they are required to teach to the next generation. This view of education provides a very effective means of comparing how well students have learned and retained specific subject knowledge and is supported by the style of examination you do with a pen and paper, in silence and for a strictly monitored period of time. This system of educating young people is increasingly recognised as anachronistic in today’s world.

At our secondary school, Blackhall Kalimna, our teachers are doing wonderful STEAM-inspired things. For example:

In Year 8 Science the students will be using a 3D printer (Design) to build a microscope (Engineering) that can fit on each student’s smart phone (Technology) with which students will take an image from their own skin/hair, or other cellular material, to incorporate into a self-portrait they are making in Art. These students will need to consider and decide on the magnification they want to have and thus select the appropriate glass bead and 3D Design.

In Year 7 Design students are looking at bio-mimicry, exploring form and function to produce 2D models of new and improved design products and systems.

In Year 9 the students will be investigating remote areas in Australia, in preparation for the trip to a community in the Northern Territory, to produce new models, using Minecraft, of sustainable systems and public spaces that enhance community life. As always, the aesthetics of these solutions will be emphasised.

The International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program demands interdisciplinary learning, rewards individual research and requires both creative and critical thinking. STEAM is a logical way to implement all of these elements. This year we have developed a strong Design program across Years 7 – 10 which, together with Technology in all its forms, provides an automatic link between disciplines. Our Electives Program offers further examples of these multi-disciplinary approaches.

A delightful image springs to mind of all those passionate experimenters, thinkers and innovators of centuries past – Aristotle, Pythagoras, Leonardo – that, rather than being alarmed by the strange detour education is taking, they are able to finally rest knowing that all the possibilities they so laboriously pointed to are once again taking off in the minds of young people.

Imagination is, indeed, more important than knowledge…

To learn a little more about ‘Creativity in Education‘ you may like to listen to this inspiring interview on ABC’s Radio 774 With Host Clare Bowditch (Alumni), interviewing Ben Cleveland (Alumni), Chair of the Victorian Chapter at the Association for Learning Environments and Richard Leonard, Chair of the Association for Learning Environment Australasia. Note: Interview starts at 1:00:00 to 1:20:00 approx. Interview Expires Wednesday 2 March.

Marilyn Smith