Tags: Cross-curricular | Design thinking | STEM/STEAM | Secondary |
Teachers at Westlake Girls High School developed a STEAM programme teaching science, technology, engineering, arts (including social studies), and mathematics in an integrated way rather than as discrete subjects.
Their aim was for students to be more agile, adaptive, and able to learn both collaboratively and independently whilst building capabilities required for their futures.
They decided to challenge the silos
They wondered if a more integrated, problem-based approach would strengthen links between technology and other subjects and provide students more motivating and engaging real-world contexts for learning.
So, they developed a STEAM pilot in which science, technology, engineering, arts (and social studies), and mathematics are taught in an integrated way rather than as discrete subjects.
An important early step was to create a vision and use it to develop the graduate profile, which describes the attributes, skills, and values that students should develop during the course.
Vision: To create a learning culture of curiosity that empowers learners to engage with the world.
The year 9 and 10 course lasts two years and pairs maths with science, and English with social studies. It also includes semester modules on:
STEAM education creates a learning platform that recognises the importance of creativity and innovation in the future to solve real-world problems, connecting the learning to the real world, giving it a purpose.
– Susana Tomaz, TIC STEAM
Teachers collaborate closely to develop courses based on termly themes such as:
Papertronics is technology that mixes paper and electronics. Students consider the environmental impact of electronics, and are required to integrate sustainable or upcycled materials into their project. In the classroom, students use card and copper tape with button batteries, LEDs, resistors, and other electronic components to create circuits that might be used in authentic contexts to solve problems.
eTextiles is technology that mixes electronics and fabrics. Tech companies are developing e-textile solutions that embed electronics into wearables for fashion, creative arts, or health and fitness purposes, such as sensors that monitor heart rate and temperature. In the classroom, students use conductive thread with button batteries, LEDs, resistors, and other electronic components or microcontroller to create e-textile solutions.
“Our class was fortunate to have guest speaker Donna Cleveland, lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, show us various electronic textile projects she has been involved with. Not only did her projects help people in need, such as the sock that would detect the area of pressure in the foot for people with diabetes, she also created wearables that are interactive and can change colour based on your mood. She showed us a project she created based on a piano with fabric tiles made from conductive thread that allowed you to play music. I am looking forward to next term when we will have the chance to make our own awesome etextiles projects.”
– STEAM student
A key aspect of the early pilot, and of the continuing programme, was to ensure that every step included regular, deliberate feedback from teachers, students, and the community.
Feedback sought included:
I have been so impressed with STEAM. It has captured my daughter’s intelligent mind and she absolutely loves learning and school in general. This is a large turnaround from her previous school. She talks about going to MIT, she strives for excellence, and we couldn't be happier with her progression. She is off to NASA with her three STEAM friends this year and she is so excited about that and her future.
It was vital to link in the arts and social sciences when designing the course because the girls’ engagement increased when they connected technology with:
“Through the social sciences, students develop the knowledge and skills to enable them to: better understand, participate in, and contribute to the local, national, and global communities in which they live and work; engage critically with societal issues; and evaluate the sustainability of alternative social, economic, political, and environmental practices.”
– Why study the social sciences? New Zealand Curriculum, 2007
TED Talk 2002: Mae Jemison – Teach arts and sciences together
Inspiration came from Mae Jemison, who is an astronaut, a doctor, an art collector, and a dancer. Telling stories from her own education and from her time in space, she calls on educators to teach both the arts and sciences, both intuition and logic, as one – to create bold thinkers.
Introducing the design process is an important part of the programme at year 9. Students connect with stakeholders in the community to identify their needs and create prototypes of their designs, journalling their process as they go. They research and dig deep into peoples’ needs to truly understand the issue from their perspective. Through empathy with others, they better define the problem. They then collect feedback from the stakeholders and reflect on whether it is suitable for them or not and what changes would need to be made if they were going to go through the process again.
As students progress into year 10 their project-based learning becomes more embedded and integrated through community projects. Students’ community projects are based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and how they are linked to local issues.
“We often hear and read about climate change, how it is going to affect us in the future. Many people today are not aware that climate change is occurring in today’s world and it is not an issue that we can leave for later. We as global citizens need to take action. As a part of my action, I created a 3D game which let me integrate my passion for advocacy for climate change with my love of STEAM. I made my VR (virtual reality) in Cospaces , a website which is used to make 3D worlds. The game is set in future Earth, where people are forced to live at sea due to sea level rising in artificial islands made of compact houses. The player learns more about climate change, its effects as they move through the game by talking to the characters who give advice to the player so that they can be part of the solution. I hope that my game can be used so that people especially students like myself learn more about the dangers of climate change."
– Parmida Raeis-Hosseini
Parmida’s VR world
Students use a design process to identify a community issue or opportunity and develop a brief for a prototype solution. The projects are structured around the tools and resources provided by 123tech.nz and are developed throughout the year.
Community projects timeline (2 hours each week)
Introduce design thinking|
Explore the UN sustainable goals
Research and decide on a community issue linked to the UN sustainable goals|
Understand the issue from different perspectives, empathising with stakeholders through interviews
Ideate about how to have an impact or solve a problem|
Prototype possible solutions
Test and iterate solutions|
Present projects at the Innovation Expo
This example, Student Community Project Journey Booklet is the journal of one year 10 student group as they went through the design process to create a prototype Senior Technology App.
A KANBAN board shows tasks that the project team have identified in categories such as:
It is commonly used in industry and is a great way for students working together on project teams to organise who is doing what and when.
This board has been created using The Kanbanchi App . Trello is another popular tool to organise project tasks or students could use a table in a shared document or sticky notes on the wall.
As part of the ideate or research phase of the design process, the students pitch their ideas to others then categorise them as either:
Students sketch out a range of ideas to help them clarify their thinking and to gather feedback from stakeholders.
Using simple paper-based templates is a great way to sketch out the different screens for an app.
What we are most proud of is the ability to provide our students with a learning platform that allows them, through curriculum integrations, to take their learning to a deeper level; a level that actually relates to the real world and empowers them to have an impact in the community.
– Susana Tomaz, Teacher In Charge of STEAM
Students taking STEAM courses are timetabled differently to others.
The timetable allows for two teachers working with a cohort of students at the same time. Ensuring teachers who are paired together can plan together is an important success factor. All teachers involved in the course are given a day each term to spend together to review and plan. STEAM students have one period per week less Mathematics, English, Social Studies and Science tuition compared with the rest of the year group.
|How does the timetable work?|
|STEAM Maths and Science||3 periods each, plus one shared lesson co-taught per 6 day cycle|
|STEAM English and Social Studies||3 periods each, plus one shared lesson co-taught per 6 day cycle|
|Papertronics/Robotics (Y9)||Term 1 and 2, Term 3 and 4, 3 periods a cycle|
|Food Technology (Y9)||Term 1 and 2, Term 3 and 4, 3 periods a cycle|
|FutureTech/Kinetic sculptures (Y10)||Term 1 and 2, Term 3 and 4, 3 periods a cycle|
|Community projects (Y10)||2 periods per 6 day cycle during the shared lessons|
It soon became apparent that students benefited from the integrated approach in years 9 and 10. A lead team of current and past STEAM students got together with teachers for a design sprint to create the senior course. This resulted in year 11 and 12 students being able to continue the integrated approach through the E-STEAM course, where E is for Entrepreneurship.
In E-STEAM, students work collaboratively to develop their ideas into a feasible business or social enterprise, aligned to the UN sustainable goals. This challenges students to be innovative in their product and their outcome and encompasses financial capability and business studies. As part of E-STEAM, students complete an internship with a local company allowing them to experience a work environment, develop their network, and be exposed to new career pathways.
E-STEAM students choose from a range of Achievement standards to create an Individual Learning Plan. For example, a student might design a piece of upcycled art that raises awareness of an identified community issue. This may involve:
Projects like this enable students to achieve standards in Art, Business, Digital Technology, and English literacy.
We’ve seen an increase in the uptake of digital technology at senior school which has been great.
– Susana Tomaz, TIC STEAM
You will use principles of design thinking/human-centred design to develop innovative solutions for the community while developing finance capabilities for your personal life as in a business/enterprise context and the potential for you to create your own startup.
You will work collaboratively to develop your ideas into a feasible business/social enterprise which will be aligned to the UN sustainable goals.
You will also have the opportunity to enter your Social Enterprise project into the Community Problem Solving Competition.
The report, Preparing tomorrow’s workforce for the fourth industrial revolution calls on the business community to take a more proactive role in preparing today’s youth to ensure they are ready to become the workforce of tomorrow. It recommends that businesses “reframe the possibilities for marginalised youth, including those who historically have been difficult to reach with particular attention to women and girls”.
|Skill categories||Definition||Purpose||Examples||Teaching & training methodology|
Foundational to individuals’|
entry and ongoing success
in the workplace, ranging
from initial job search to
To support youth in finding|
and securing employment,
and succeeding within the
Literacy, numeracy, digital|
literacy, resume writing,
etiquette, social norms
Personal attributes, social|
skills, and communication
abilities that support
and interactions with others
To support youth as they|
integrate and collaborate
with internal and external
workplace stakeholders, such
as customers, co-workers, and
thinking, creative thinking,
initiative, leadership, social
emotional learning, teamwork,
growth mindset, cultural
Knowledge and capabilities|
to perform specialised tasks
To give youth technical|
or domain expertise to
perform job-specific tasks
coding, project management,
mechanical functions, scientific
tasks, technology-based skills,
and other job- specific skills
(for example, nursing, farming, legal)
Knowledge and abilities that|
support success in creating
and building a workplace
opportunity or idea
To support youth in|
establishing their own
business, supporting entry into
freelance, contract work, or
gig work, and/or developing
as a self-starter within a work
ingenuity, curiosity, optimism,
risk-taking, courage, business
acumen, business execution
I think that STEAM programmes, such as the one at Westlake Girls, are one of the greatest ways that we can get students prepared for the future. It's incredibly important for employers such as HP to identify candidates who have a diverse set of experiences. While traditional education focuses on individual study and single-subject syllabus-focused curriculum, what employers require is fundamentally different. We are seeking candidates who can collaborate, work together on projects, and be agile and adaptable. Furthermore, we need candidates who understand a diverse range of communication methods.
– Victoria Mahan, Director HP NZ
Connecting with local businesses is a key aspect of STEAM at Westlake Girls. This is done through:
The school engages with Engineers without borders who organise young engineers to visit the school. These provide the students with positive role models and insights into global authentic contexts for engineering challenges.
Watching our daughter going through the STEAM programme, we noticed that she has developed confidence, she is more comfortable to face new challenges, and she has developed very dynamic thinking skills and problem solving skills. The comprehensive and inter-linked knowledge she learned definitely provides the opportunity for her to understand this world from multiple perspectives with a balanced view.