Full STEAM ahead – the future of primary education

16 March 2017

When computer programmers, social media tycoons and electric car manufacturers are the most innovative, admired and successful entrepreneurs in the world, it’s clear that in order to prepare your children for the future, a core understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is essential.

But while the focus for many schools over the past decade has been STEM, educators are beginning to realise the importance of balance – by incorporating arts to the equation.

After all, where would Mark Zuckerberg be now if he hadn’t identified the powerful driver of social connection, personal story telling and sharing behind his Facebook empire? And how would inventor Elon Musk have formulated the creative concepts behind his burgeoning Tesla empire, without harnessing his imagination with state of the art engineering?

While we’re staring down the barrel at a future ruled by computers and artificial intelligence, the one thing that can’t be programmed is free thought, imagination and creativity.

This is why many schools are now turning to a more holistic approach to education, incorporating, science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) to create the ultimate foundation for our future leaders.

Geoff Bilney, SPW’s Future Centre Coordinator, said that STEAM is a term he and his colleagues are now using, because the future of education can no longer exist in silos.

“We know that incorporating creativity through the arts is an essential part of learning, which is why we’re now referring to STEM as STEAM,” he said.

“It’s about integration, rather than subjects – in life we have to rely on a number of different skills and a bank of knowledge covering all subject streams, so we need to teach our children to incorporate their learning in the same way.

“In the real-world scientific, technological, engineering, artistic and mathematical thinking come together to solve our biggest problems, so why wouldn’t we teach our children to do the same at school?”

Taking on the role of Future Centre Coordinator at the beginning of 2016, Geoff said that while SPW already takes part in the progressive Primary Years Programme (PYP) the idea of the Future Centre is to challenge the norm even more – to “take school forward” and prepare for the future of education.

“We acknowledge that the education system, which was designed over 100 years ago, is no longer relevant for our children coming through school now,” he said.

“Being a PYP school means that enquiry is a major part of our thinking, so our Future Centre is just a further step in that direction, with key elements being STEAM and project based learning, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Working with Dr Yang Zhao, a Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas, Geoff said that SPW is one of just 12 schools in the country who are embracing Dr Zhao’s unique future-focused educational approach.

“Dr Zhao’s programmes are all about developing the skills and attributes our children will need to live, work and thrive in a 21st century world,” he said.

“It’s about building self-awareness and growth mindsets to help children deal with the rapid pace of society, to manage these emotions and expectations and to look after themselves and others within that context.

“This involves resilience training, mindfulness, and personalised learning which provides more opportunity for children to pursue the things that mean something to them.”

Now at the end of their first of a five-year future strategy, which has involved consulting with students, parents, teachers and education specialists, such as Dr Zhao, Geoff says 2016 has been all about planning for and trialing the best programs and approaches to help prepare children for a rapidly changing future.

“At this stage, we’re still working out the finer details, but our hope is that this way of thinking can be integrated into all of our classes and programs,” Geoff said.

“The hub for our Future Centre will be the SPW library, the extracurricular knowledge heart of the school – here we will be providing real life opportunities to engage, enquire, problem solve and create.

“From next year we’ll start implementing some of these strategies in a more structured way in the Centre and in the classroom, but for now we’re all enjoying trying new things and getting inspired by the process of learning.”

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