Advocates of more integrated approaches to STEAM education argue that teaching STEAM in a more connected manner, especially in the context of real-world issues, can make the STEAM subjects more relevant to students and teachers. This, in turn, can enhance motivation for learning and improve student interest, achievement, and persistence.
We sat down with our speaker and STEAM advocate Linda Cheung, Elementary STEMinn Coordinator, Stamford American School, Hong Kong, who shares about the success of the STEAMInn program at the Stamford American School. STEAM-Inn is embedded into all areas of the curriculum and allows students to explore, experiment, be creative and develop them into curious innovative design thinkers. From Pre-Nursery to Kindergarten, children are given age-appropriate class kits and introduced to computational thinking (coding), Virtual Reality, Bee Bots and Makey Makey (circuitry)..Name it!
The World Economic Forum, held in January this year, listed the top skills required for the future, for the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ to include higher-order thinking skills such as complex problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity. What is key is that ‘essential skills,’ like these, can’t yet be mimicked by artificial intelligence.
“We know that technology is developing constantly, but it can’t replace creativity and the innovative minds of people. We can’t guarantee what jobs there will be in the future, but by giving children the tools to succeed in a variety of fields, we can certainly help with future-proofing,” comments Linda Cheung, STEMinn coordinator at Stamford American School Hong Kong.
“For this reason, Stamford’s STEMinn program commences at age five,” Linda adds. “It was developed to drive innovative thinking as well as expand the higher-order thinking skills students need to be successful upon graduation. The innovation [inn] component added to the STEM program [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] allows students more opportunities to engage in design thinking in the following steps: Imagine, Design, Create, Evaluate.”
This design thinking process sees an idea transformed into a practical solution which solves a real-world problem. At Stamford, students engage in design thinking through both individual and team projects. This approach to learning brings creativity to life while developing skills such as problem-solving, coordination with others and project management.
“Coming up with creative solutions is important but being able to test, fail and improve is even more so. Deep learning for the students comes during the evaluation phase where they learn how to improve their work; this phase often is the beginning of further exploration, not the end,” says Linda.
Not surprisingly, Stamford students love the STEMinn approach. “By digging in and engaging children with what is relevant to their lives and speaks to their interests, we are able to provide them with meaningful learning experiences,” Linda explains.
To this end, an ongoing whole school project sees students engaging in authentic, inquiry-based projects related to sustainability. Sustainable Stamford will culminate in a two-day event (May 2 and 3) with activities, workshops, and showcases of students’ work.
Students are planning their investigations in composting, mealworm farming and vertical gardening. Further activities on the planning table include making detergent from fruit enzymes and pencil cases from Tetra Paks, and transforming plastic waste into art murals and unwanted goods into high fashion. The idea is that students gain confidence when they see that their ideas can be realised and put to good use. Each grade level focuses on topics relevant to their curricular content.
“Our upper elementary students and middle school will use their innovative skills and knowledge to build solar cars and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) using sustainable materials. ROVs can be used to gather important data, using AI technology to track debris (of various origins) in the ocean more effectively,” says Linda.
“To leave Hong Kong a cleaner place, there will also be a series of beach clean-ups followed by workshops on how to repurpose plastics and, more importantly, on how we can reduce their use.”
Sustainable Stamford challenges students to look beyond their classrooms and to recognise that they have a role to play in the world. For example, Grade 5 [Year 6] students are working on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Students are now at a point where they have chosen one of the goals to focus on and they are about to develop an action plan of ‘teaspoons of change’ that they can make,” Linda explains. “The teacher leading this project has created a Humans of Stamford library through which teachers share their past experiences, their involvement in positive actions in the areas covered by the SDGs. Students are finding these lived through anecdotes truly inspiring.”
Through Sustainable Stamford, students will discover ways to incorporate habits of sustainability into the school’s daily routine – and they will be inspired to take action at home and in their local community.
“Sustainable Stamford will serve to educate both students and parents,” Linda concludes. “And we are proving that a STEMinn approach to education is the way forward, not least because it empowers our students to think of themselves as changemakers.”
Linda has extensive experience teaching STEM subjects in both North America and Asia. Her undergraduate education is focused on science (University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada), and her Master’s degree is in Secondary Science Education (Hawaii Pacific University, Hawaii, USA). She spent her formative first years as a middle school science teacher. She joined Stamford American School Hong Kong as the STEM Coordinator supporting teachers in the delivery of this innovative program to elementary students. Her keen interests in science, technology, art, music, and sustainability play a key role in enriching the educational experience she supports the core and specialists teams to deliver. She has organized several robotics competitions and directed many showcases of student work in school fairs of which she believes hold immense value for all students of any ability. You can often find her at local community events for ideas to bring authentic and relevant projects or initiatives to her school community
Linda Cheung, Elementary STEMinn Coordinator, Stamford American School, Hong Kong will be joining us at EduTECH Asia 2019 and will be speaking on “How to achieve successful integrated STEAM learning” at the #STEAM theatre.
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