Tom Collins, Head of STEAM at fellow Nord Anglia Education school, British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park, said no matter what year a student was in, one could not under estimate the power of asking questions.
Asking questions through an inquiry-based form of learning is a cornerstone of the curriculum at Mr Collins’ school. By introducing interdisciplinary learning through STEAM subjects at a primary school level, students begin to draw connections between different parts of their curriculum by learning from various projects, thereby growing their curiosity.
“When children start seeing connections, they become curious,” Mr Collins said.
“They want to know why does that mathematical concept apply to science. STEAM learning breaks down the barriers between lessons; that’s how we get children to be curious about the world around them and get them excited.”
Like ICS, BIS Chicago Lincoln Park leverages education materials and teaching best practices on STEAM learning exclusively designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the schools group. All schools in the Nord Anglia Education family participate in three MIT Challenges each year under a special theme.
This year’s superheroes theme saw students take on a challenge that explored how the animal kingdom can inspire and improve engineering solutions and create solutions to human problems.
Mr Collins said he looked to medieval knights as superheroes and used the idea as a conduit to teach his Year 1 students about natural materials and their properties. They drew inspiration from plants and animals to build helmets, gauntlets and breast plates, creating wearable pieces of engineering inspired by nature.
“That’s how we link ideas,” Mr Collins said.
“Bringing different subject areas together encourages children to ask more questions. I want children to ask challenging questions. It makes my life exciting as well – especially if I don’t know the answer, I love that.”
He said one of the more gratifying and arguably sophisticated outcomes of STEAM learning is that it also encourages children to listen with curiosity, thereby allowing them to empathise and work with others.
Mr Collins enabled his Year 5 students to develop this quality through the Medical Marvel MIT Challenge. They designed and built a prototype of a piece of assistive technology that helps support people living with a disability.
“Using what they learned about light and sound, I wanted them to develop assistive technologies for someone who might be deaf or blind,” Mr Collins said.
“Not only did they have to listen to me, but they needed to engage with people who would use this kind of technology. They listened with curiosity about how such conditions affected their lives, and they came up with something that might affect that in a positive way.”