ACS International Schools

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According to the World Economic Forum, two thirds of children entering primary school today will end up working in job types that don’t yet exist. True? Scary? Probably both.

Whatever the time frame, there is increasing momentum to have our children develop more transferable skills to best prepare them for the fluidity of future careers. Traditional methods of teaching core subjects like science and maths in isolation simply isn’t enough anymore. Students need to know how to adapt and apply their learning, which takes a whole new approach.

A STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) education is a good start, as it teaches students to apply learning across four disciplines. What we now need to add is creativity and innovation.

The need for a STEAM

STEAM importantly adds the Arts to the mix, teaching the STEM subjects in a way that brings them to life by taking them out of the lab and into the ‘real world’.

Through creative thinking and visual learning, our students develop practical skills in a way that’s fun and imaginative. This helps them understand complex subjects and communicate ideas and knowledge more effectively.

We find that teaching these subjects in a visual way also makes them more accessible to younger students. An example. In ACS Hillingdon’s Lower School, students have been using the visual programming language app, Hopscotch, for coding. The app has many levels to complete and provides colourful graphics to engage the younger students.

By putting STEAM learning directly in their hands, students build the confidence to ask questions, define problems, and design their own solutions. In ACS Cobham’s Lower School, students have been using Lego WeDo 2.0 kits, working with a combination of Lego bricks, motors, motion sensors, and coding, all controlled by an app on their iPads. Students create robotic science rovers that can be programmed to move and send information back to their iPads.

ACS Cobham encourages students of all ages to be creative and innovative at its annual ‘Maker Day’. Made up of activities, exhibitions and workshops, the day inspires students to create anything, from simple arts and craft designs to complex computer science projects. At the end of the day, an exhibition is held for family and friends, offering students the opportunity to demonstrate their creations in action.

ACS Cobham also holds a summer ‘Maker Camp’, which involves creative technology activities, including making battery powered cars and trucks; building mechanical moving robots; and designing and installing water irrigation systems for the school’s vegetable gardens. Due to its popularity the school opened a ‘Makers Club’ in Middle school, enabling students to experiment with 3D printers, electronics, programming and robotics.

Add creativity from the arts

Increasingly, employees are required to be more flexible and adaptable in the workplace. In an environment where a ‘job for life’ is very unlikely, creativity from the arts is a stand-out skill that encourages innovation, new thinking, and moving beyond traditional skills.

The International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IBMYP) requires students to create personal projects that bring their ideas to life. For the duration of the project, students complete a journal which documents their achievements, challenges faced, and the skills that they develop. This year, ACS Egham’s personal projects included an artwork which displayed electronic waste in the form of a city; a film looking at how self-esteem affects different age groups; and a short film exploring issues related to the role of technology in modern society.

We find combining STEAM facts and figures with storytelling and creativity really helps students understand challenging topics. For example, ACS Hillingdon’s Advanced Technology Club, created, coded and built the ‘100 iPad Wall’ within the school’s IT Laboratory. Combining science, technology and art, Lower and Middle School classes used the Wall to create a piece of art to exhibit their findings from a science project which explored the microscopic world around the campus. By attaching ProScopes to iPads, and sampling the natural and man-made worlds, students collected over 700 images and created an original piece of art to explain what they’d learnt.

Embracing the future

Understandably, STEAM is gaining traction.

Importantly, the approach is not about spending less time on science, technology, engineering, and maths to make room for art. It’s about sparking students’ imagination and helping them innovate through hands-on STEM projects. Most importantly, it’s about applying creative thinking to STEM projects so that students can imagine and visualise a variety of ways to use their skills at university and in their future careers.

Across our schools, we regularly challenge our students to present a topic differently, which helps them gain a better grasp of a subject. They grow to understand that their knowledge of a subject is not finite, and that it doesn’t stop at school or when they leave the classroom.

Recognising the importance of STEM subjects, ACS Hillingdon is opening a new £10 million science centre this year, with seven state-of-the-art laboratories, and a designated micro-biology unit. This latest investment is designed to enhance science learning, and encourage students to explore scientific research.

The STEAM approach will motivate a generation to better express ideas and perspectives across a range of subjects and projects. Consequently, our students leave us with a highly-developed, transferable skill-set, that is nimble enough to take advantage of future careers and opportunities as they arise.

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