STEAM will power the future. While some policy makers fixate on STEM subjects, frantically trying to find the seeds from which these stems might sprout, they miss the importance of the Arts, which provide the nutrients and environment for successful germination and growth.
As artists, we can quickly be dismissed as a luxury by our scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical colleagues, who may enjoy our performances of other Creative Arts outputs without ever seeking to understand them or recognise the science, technology, engineering and mathematics in our work. As artists, we are not only seeking to develop our understanding of STEM but are demonstrating how we can inform and inspire people in these areas. Together, we can explore the wonders of the world around us and beyond.
On Sunday last, we left a freezing Ireland in the early hours of the morning to travel to Lier in Belgium, the base camp for a group of explorers from Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Slovenia and The Netherlands. After exploring our beautiful and historic surroundings, shaped that day by the smells, sounds and activities of the carnival, we set off on an adventure into SPACE powered by STEAM. Our Strategic Partnership: Agents of Change in Education, would explore the potential of an integrated education philosophy involving Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. As Einstein reminds us: ‘The greatest scientists are artists as well’.
On Monday morning the team of lecturers sought to share their ideas and develop the first SPACEcraft that would bring our students to the moon, the theme chosen for the week. Our plan involved a series of tasks that would simultaneously act as icebreakers, teambuilding exercises, and stimuli for creativity and suggest directions for the days and years ahead. We all delighted in the fun and games remembering Einstein’s assertion that ‘Play is the highest form of research’. On Tuesday, the students undertook these tasks with enthusiasm and enquiry. That afternoon they developed a shared understanding of STEAM education that they, as agents for change in education, would share with 150 university students training for careers as teachers from Kindergarten upwards.
Wednesday brought the group to the new campus of AP in Antwerp, where we were based for two days of workshops. Led by experienced educators from a range of disciplines and international education institutions including Dundalk Institute of Technology, the workshops were an opportunity to both give example and explore opportunities for development. Gradually the teachers stood back and the students took control, creating new forms of transportation, of communicating, and of living.
On Friday we put some of our theories to the test. Over 150 participants in the STEAM week and SPACE project visited the Basisschool Parkschool in Lier where they facilitated a varied programme of activities for school children from the age of four to fourteen. As the school became a pace of wonder about space, pupils creatively engaged with exploring or suggesting how they might get to the moon, what it might be like to live there, and how they could overcome challenges presented. Their art may provide answers for scientists. The success of the day was epitomised by the young boy who ran in to the schoolyard at lunchtime and informed his school principal that he had designed a rocket that would take him to the moon. As Einstein put it, ‘It is better to believe than to disbelieve; in so doing, you bring everything to the realm of possibility’.
Our week in Belgium is just the start of an initial three year research project that has a number of aims. We will develop the concept of STEAM education and share it with our colleagues and students. Our students will pioneer new methods and pedagogies in their careers, inspiring the next generation through holistic education that combines creativity and enquiry across STEAM. We will share our resources with as many as possible. From our perspective, we hope to ensure that Ireland remains at the cutting edge of education and in doing so meets the needs of both industry and society.
We have lift-off. For more, watch out for our website.