The STEAM Ahead at Urualla Central School

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After some major investment in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) in 2016, students at Uralla Central School are all set to enhance their critical thinking, communication, collaboration, connectivity, creativity and cultural skills, which are all seen as critical for the ever-changing future world of work. FOCUS speaks with Bill Platts, a Science teacher helping to lead the charge.

Hi Bill. Tell us what’s happening at Uralla Central School?

Well, it’s all very exciting and fairly exhausting at the same time. I’m sure most of your readers would be aware of the impact of technologies on the world of work and by definition, the future world of work. Our principal, Michael Rathborne, has really been passionately committed to the moral imperative that all of the staff must have towards helping prepare our students not for our today, but their tomorrow. So this year we have invested close to $40,000 in Beebots, Bluebots, Probots, mBots, Spheros, tablets and Lego Mindstorms EV3; to coincide with this, our reorganised school structures – a Junior (K-4), Middle (5-8) and Senior School (9-Academy II) – have allowed the introduction of a whole series of new elective subjects from the Middle School up – Coding, Code Academy, STEM, and STEM Video games. Head of Middle School, Dan Williams, has developed the CAPaBLE (Curiosity And Passion Based Learning Experiences) model which incorporates a lot of project-based learning opportunities for students and is increasingly turning STEAM into STEAMED (STEAM + Entrepreneurship and Design).

Wow, sounds like a lot going on! How has it changed what you do?

That’s an excellent question. At first it was quite frightening to let go of what might be best described as my traditional teacher role and more importantly, the old style classroom, but I wouldn’t go back to that now. On some days it might seem from the outside looking in to be chaos, but when you actually walk around and watch and listen to students really engaging with their learning, it’s empowering for everyone.

What I quickly learned was that my job is so much more exciting when one is the “lead learner” in a group of learners, as opposed to the teacher at the front dictating to students with fairly tedious text books. We’re all about building a positive culture of learning and everyone having a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. I established pretty early on that many of the students knew much more than I did and that instead of repressing that, we had to set it free.

How did you do that?

Well, our first lot of “bot” purchases was meant to be “it”, partly because we weren’t certain where our students were at. What I quickly realised was that not only was I behind them, but they were way ahead of the fairly simple “bots” we had purchased. So the end result was that we had to purchase a whole lot more with higher specifications. The nice thing about this was that we were then able to implement the more simple “bots” into the learning of students in our Junior School, often with students from the Senior School leading that learning. This is significant, because it is estimated that within the next two – five years at least 90% of the workforce will need a basic level of digital literacy and that one in two Australians will need higher tech skills such as programming and software development. These figures can be a bit scary, but as a staff I know we feel that we are now better equipped to really prepare our students for their world which, whilst it might see many of the jobs that we know disappear, will see far more develop that we’ve never even considered.

So, where to from here?

When we started on this journey at the beginning of 2016, a lot of the projects that students got involved in were fairly whimsical; for example, building chariots for “bots” and designing and building obstacle courses to code them around. Now however, things are developing to higher or more technical levels, especially more sophisticated coding. There is a group of students who have been building a Minecraft replica of the school, a mirror image if you will, underneath the actual school. We also have students working collaboratively to develop and road-test learning spaces and then deliver recommendations to the principal about school improvement. We are all about getting students to learn with technology, not for technology. A recent case study of Uralla carried out by the Regional Australia Institute posed a couple of really pertinent questions. “Uralla is well placed to provide kids with a good education – but are kids given the opportunity to develop their hard and soft skills? Do teachers in Uralla have access to the skills and tools they need to use digital technology to help students build essential skills?” We believe the answer is, yes, and it’s just full STEAM ahead!

UCS – standing tall, walking proud since 1862!

Thanks Bill.

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