At the conclusion of the initial module of the STEAM project, tailored and introduced specifically for the fifth grade, Smaranda Nicolau reflects on the students’ progress through the first module of this innovative educational project and delves into the project’s underlying principles. She explains the main objective beyond teaching students four subjects from their conventional curriculum and explores how this approach alters perspectives, impacting both students and teachers. Smaranda Nicolau teaches Drama and Media Studies to High School students and is the proud co-creator of the year 5 project alongside the wonderful team of teachers in the STEAM project (in alphabetical order Victor Bratu (Computer Science), Salih Gokcel (Design & Technology), Dr. Bogdan Topîrceanu (Arts), Vlad Oancea (Drama), and Irina Zamfir (Coordonator).
At the beginning of the school year, Avenor College launched an exciting trans-curricular STEAM Education project titled “How to Build Another Me.” The project challenges students in 5th Grade to learn about what makes humans behave the way they do, by attempting to build a robot with human-like behaviour. In order to build the Robot, students will require conceptual knowledge and skills from four different subjects – Computer Science (CS), Design and Technology (DT), Arts (A) and Drama (D) – which make up the 4 STEAM Modules that kids complete throughout the year.
This means that this year’s Grade 5 don’t have CS, DT, Arts and Drama in their timetables. Instead, they have STEAM. It also means, instead of studying each subject for 45 minutes a week for a year, they use their 6 week intensive STEAM Drama Module to create and perform the Robot’s story and personality, they use their 6 week intensive STEAM Computer Science Module to code the way the Robot moves how it communicates, they use their 6 week intensive STEAM Arts Module to create their Robot’s visual appearance and their 6 week intensive STEAM Design and Technology Module to design the moving parts, 3D print and assemble them into the final Robot, which the audience (you!) will be invited to meet and interact with at the end of year STEAM Exhibition.
This project proposes an altogether different way of engaging with curricular concepts in each of the subjects above. Ultimately, the aim of How To Build Another Me is to deliver an educational experience that is relevant and provides long-term understanding not only of concepts and skills, but also of the ways in which these concepts and skills are applied in real life environments, outside of school. The aim, in other words, is the Future Readiness of our students. Building a Robot is simply an excellent excuse to achieve an aim that is already worthwhile.
CORE LEARNING – INPUT – PROCESS – OUTPUT
One of the main goals of this project is to provide a unified learning experience, where students are encouraged to transfer learning from one discipline to another. In order to do this, we chose a single and simple piece of core learning to connect the four modules together. That piece of core learning is the triad of INPUT – PROCESS – OUTPUT.
How do students learn about Input-Process-Output?
They are required explicitly to transfer knowledge from each of their four modules to the others in order to figure out what kind of INPUT it takes to generate human-like OUTPUT in a ROBOT.
This lesson takes on a different form in each subject. This is also key to encouraging transfer – facilitating the students’ encounter with the same notion in different contexts will help consolidate the understanding that this notion can be transferred to further contexts. Indeed, we deal with Input-Process-Output in two ways:
- In Drama and Computer Science, we use the triad to explain how the Robot moves and communicates. In Drama, we ask what makes a human being behave the way they do. We ask students to explore and debate how they themselves behave differently in different contexts, and how their present behaviour is sometimes influenced by their past behaviour. In Computer Science, we ask them to translate the complex stories they create into code that makes the robot move and sound in a way that makes logical sense with the backstory they create in Drama. So in a nutshell, if a robot was treated badly by its makers, it will behave differently (move and sound differently) from a robot who was treated well and is generally interested in helping people;
- In Arts and in Design & Technology, we deal with Input-Process-Output as it applies to a creative problem-solving process. In Arts, students begin with observations of the human body and move on to creating original designs for characters, based on themselves, that they 3d Model and print. The Input is the observation but the creative process leads to the outputs (the models) being vastly different from the observable reality. The course is a reflection on how the arts construct reality. Whereas the Design & Technology course is a lesson in adapting and readapting your process to suit the given Input – the design brief. Design&Technology is a lesson about improving the process. The best possible output will be generated by a process that has adapted to the greatest possible extent to the available resources.
Teachers and Students REFLECT ON STEAM MODULE 1
The first Module took place between September 15th and November 15th and consisted of 6 weeks of intensive learning. During these 6 weeks, every Wednesday morning, from 8.30 – 11.10, students from the entire year were assigned to one of the four STEAM groups. The Epic Engineers group took Arts, Imaginative Inventors did Design and Technology with Salih Gokcel, the students in the Robo Racers group went to Computer Science with Victor Bratu and the Tech Titans group got Dramatic with Vlad Oancea. Students worked in a manner they have not experienced in their history with formal education – they worked in intensive, 3 hour bursts on creating the product that will later become their team’s ROBOT. And here’s how it all went.
In Drama – The Logic of Storytelling
“I used to think Drama wasn’t for everybody, but now I think anyone can do it. I used to think STEAM would be like all the other classes, but it’s more fun. My favourite thing about the Robot is that everyone has to contribute, it’s not just one person (playing and writing) the Robot,” says one Drama student.
Another mentions: “I used to think Drama is a lot more about acting, but now I think it’s also about writing.” This student quite enjoys performing and Drama games and enjoyed this side of class – she didn’t enjoy writing as much as she enjoys acting but she is now quite excited to be performing what she wrote at the Exhibition. The curious thing is at the other end of the spectrum, two students who didn’t generally enjoy Drama Games or acting did excellent performances because they very much enjoyed writing the backstories and creating the Robot Makers civilisation.
Vlad Oancea, Drama teacher, reflects on the benefits of his approach, which focuses intensely on how stories and performances make logical sense. “From the Drama classes perspective, the main benefit of the STEAM module is the opportunity it offers to children to think and find solutions outside of everyday life. The fact that they have to build a robot, both physically, but especially on the personality level, is not something for which their daily reflexes offer much support. And then, with the creation of this robot, their personality gets another dimension, where abstract thinking, teamwork and imagination are the key elements.”
In Design & Technology – The Importance of Teamwork
One student used to think that 3D printing was easy, but now he thinks it’s difficult. He saw difficulty as a negative, but we treat this negative as a positive because the student has actually gained a much clearer understanding of the effort required to design and create a product – he is no longer underestimating the task at hand and actually performed very well in his D&T class, which means that he proficiently managed his challenges. Another student was excited to be building things, having come from a school where there was no STEM or STEAM offer. This student loves building and found it actually enjoyable that solving problems in the design process was more complicated than he thought it would be. Yet another student reflects on how they thought that STEAM would be boring because they would just talk about building robots but is now super excited that she is actually getting to build a real robot, not just a model (although she mentions she would have also enjoyed building a cardboard model but thought the 3D modelling app was cool too).
Salih Gokcel, Design & Technology teacher acknowledged the role of team-work in overcoming these challenges in his Module:
“The integration of Design and Technology into our curriculum has proven to be a game-changer for our young learners. The hands-on approach to learning has ignited their creativity and problem-solving skills in a way that traditional methods alone cannot achieve. From designing and prototyping to bringing their ideas to life, our students have embraced the challenges and opportunities presented by our STEAM module. Through a common goal to create a functioning robot, they have learned to communicate effectively, delegate tasks, and appreciate the diverse skills each team member brings to the table. Design and Technology have provided a platform for them to explore their individual strengths while contributing to a collective goal.” says Salih.
In Computer Science – The Evolution of Abstract Thought
I had a very interesting philosophical discussion with one student who just completed the STEAM Computer Science Module. He says that programming the robot was more difficult than he imagined because he didn’t understand he would have to give it word-by-word, step-by-step instructions. He elaborates: “I can’t just turn my brain off and think like a thing that can’t think (the robot). For example we had to program the robot to make a sandwich and I thought it would be easy: take bread, take peanut butter etc.; but what we actually had to do was something like ‘move one step forward with your left leg, use your right arm to open the drawer etc.’. It wasn’t difficult but it was tricky. It felt really good to solve it and I felt smarter because I had that feeling that it is more difficult to explain something to someone who doesn’t know than it is to learn it yourself.
Victor Bratu discusses the importance of developing reasoning skills to the study of STEAM ICT: “In our STEAM program, 5th-grade students take part in a transformative journey in abstract thinking. Through lessons on algorithms, diagram flows, the binary system, logic gates, and robot programming, they progress from concrete problem-solving to more abstract approaches. They learn to break down complex tasks into step-by-step procedures, represent ideas using flowcharts, and grasp the binary language of digital computing. Along the way, their logical reasoning skills sharpen as they explore the functioning of logic gates. Witnessing this growth is truly inspiring, as it fosters creativity and problem-solving abilities that will serve them well in our rapidly changing technological world.”
In Arts – Growth through Challenge
Bogdan Topîrceanu, Art Teacher tells the story of growth in response to challenges during his first STEAM Arts Module: “The 5th Grade STEAM project proved to be a constructive challenge for both myself and the students. Because we’re piloting the learning of new media technologies it was a steep learning curve for everyone, but this taught the students to be flexible, to adapt, to be resilient in front of new challenges in order to overcome them.
Working with new technologies, they faced adversity and had to deal with the fact that what they had in mind was not yet possible to achieve on screen. This taught them to be patient, to give themselves time to experiment, to fail, and then to use the past experiences into iterating a new, more successful version of the process.” reflects Bogdan.
In Art we’re choosing to only share one student testimony – simply because we feel like this student wonderfully captures the essence of what we are trying to communicate, with regard to ALL subjects. Speaking about her experience in STEAM Arts, this student says simply: “I used to think that art isn’t something important, but now I think and know that art has many sides but every one of them is important.”
That is what we leave you all with at the end of this wonderful first Module. We are especially grateful to our students for continuing to be amazing, smart, open-minded and hard-working. Keep it up guys!