Full STEAM Ahead
At midday on Wednesday 28 October, 35 teachers, artists and scientists gathered at the Science Museum. Their mission: in just 24 hours to hack the school curriculum, working together to create STEAM-focused resources that teachers could use to bring sciences and arts together and to life for young people.
As proud sponsors of the event, we grabbed our toothbrushes and sleeping bags, then settled in for what turned out to be an unforgettable night at the museum..
STEM + Arts = STEAM
STEAM advocates a holistic education for young people. It is a concept that responds to the modern world where the old rules no longer apply, where developments in technology blur the boundaries between science and arts ever closer together and recognises that young people will need multidisciplinary skills to navigate their future careers.
And industry will need them too, as Amy Smith, Head of VFX Recruitment at Framestore says:
The Creative Industries need a pipeline of talent with STEAM skills. STEAM curriculums that make real-world, creative connections between subjects in schools are a vital part of preparing our young people for successful careers in the creative industries, and our wider economy.
Evidence from the Cultural Learning Alliance shows that studying the Arts fosters creativity, innovation and resilience: skills that all young people will need to be successful in the 21st century labour market.
The purpose of the Hack was to put STEAM into practice: to understand teachers’ everyday experience and create practical tools for them to use. Bringing together artists and scientists, the Hack was the concept of STEAM brought to life, demonstrating that when you bring disciplines together, that’s when the magic happens. Pairs of arts and science teachers attended from the same schools, so that they can work together to use the new resources at their disposal.
In the true spirit of a hack, when we began we didn’t know where we would end up, but we knew that by 10am the following morning we needed to have ideas to present to an expert panel and invited audience. The pressure was on.
United for a cause
Specialisms represented included neuroscience, dance, pinhole photography, climate change, storytelling, museum technology and design. As we shared what had motivated each of us to take part, it became clear that what united this diverse group of people, was the strong belief that young people should have access to a broad and balanced education that inspires them with the wonder of the world, and helps every child to discover their own potential.
Fuelled by passion, coffee and a lot of sugar our hackers worked intensely, using the inspiration of the Science Museum and each other’s knowledge and expertise to develop STEAM-focused resources.
Over the course of our 24 hours some experts called in to offer their inspiration and support:
- Dr. Daniel Glaser, Director of the Science Gallery at King’s College London reminded us that combining disciplines doesn’t mean removing all barriers and making everything homogeneous; rather it’s about enabling communication across the divide and encouraging collision between disciplines to challenge the status quo, break things and make things.
- Babette Allina and Tracie Constantino from Rhode Island School of Design, which has led the STEAM campaign in the US, skyped in to share the benefit of their experience. They have discovered that the most successful STEAM projects are those that incorporate the expertise of each subject in parity, have the support of senior leadership and empower students to direct their own learning through experimentation.
- All the way from California, Dan Goods, Visual Strategist from the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) at NASA set STEAM hearts racing with tales of scientific and artistic collaboration: from the Exoplanet Travel Bureau for newly discovered planets to working with hundreds of amateur radio enthusiasts to say ‘hi’ to a spaceship on route to Jupiter:
JPL shows that the real value in STEAM is not just collaborating at the beginning or end of a project, but combining artistic and scientific processes so that they inform and develop one another.
Our initial inspirations were whittled down into some key concepts to be developed by four self-selected teams who grabbed pens, paper, plasticine and 3D printers to get to work on their ideas. Such was the motivation that it was only at midnight when the lights went off and the hot toddies went around that teams could be persuaded to down tools, creep through the empty museum to brush their teeth, unroll their sleeping bags and bed down for the night.
We were up again at the crack of dawn with lots more coffee and bacon sandwiches, it was a mad rush to corral ideas, create slides and make ourselves look like we hadn’t just spent the night on the floor, all in time for the 10am presentations.
Our panel of experts was:
- Maggie Atkinson, former Children’s Commissioner for England
- Hasan Bakshi, Director of Creative Industries, Nesta
- Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group
- Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh, CREST Youth Panel, British Science Association
- Amy Smith, Head of Recruitment VFX, Framestore
- Richard Wentworth, artist
Each team took to the stage to present ideas that included:
- a handling collection of boundary objects that could be approached from a scientific or artistic perspective;
- STEAM-focused starter resources for the five-minute settling in period at the beginning of every lesson;
- a Discovery Journal that would help year 6 students transition to secondary school with STEAM-focused inspiration;
- a STEAM ‘cookbook’ with resources ranged into starters, main courses and puddings that would help teachers to build;
- a student-run STEAM fair.
Praise from the panel
There was much support from the panel for all of the ideas they heard, which will now be developed and tested in schools before being made available via Times Education Supplement Teaching Resources. Plans are also underway to create an All Party Parliamentary Group on STEAM to provide the all-important policy support.
After 24 hours in the museum, hackers were tired but enthused. In a short period of time, great progress was made and there is now a community of STEAM pioneers determined to take these ideas forward and change the way we teach our young people.