Suzy Pett, Director of Studies, and Richard Bristow, SMT Secondee, discuss Wimbledon High’s unique STEAM+ strategy.
We’ve had a whole two weeks of inhabiting the new STEAM Tower. It’s beautiful, airy and light. However, it represents so much more than simply a new, physical space. I’m reminded of the poet Emily Dickinson who writes about a “certain slant of light” where “internal differences are”. And that’s the point. The tower is physically very different, but it represents the deeper, inner differences to the way we think about learning here at WHS.
First, we had STEM, that initiated the idea of interdisciplinary learning.
Then, we the realised that with the creativity of Arts, the problem-solving potential to real world problems was magnified. So, we developed STEAM. We need the imaginative, ethical, social and historical capabilities of the Arts to allow us to rigorously contemplate the complex issues of the 21st century. And my goodness have we shown our STEAM real-world problem-solving capabilities. Just last week we heard that our students were winners of the air pollution study by Bristol ChemLabS. Some of our students have worked with UCL’s Mullard’s Space centre to analyse data about the erosion of the Earth’s plasmapause, while others are almost ready to publish Sport Science research on the Wimbledon Championships in partnership with the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club. Recently, our Year 11-13s have been working with the Wellcome Sanger Institute (near Cambridge) as well as ELLS lab in Heidelberg Germany on bioinformatics projects. Not many school students ever have the opportunity to participate in ‘real’ research that could be published in scientific journals, but we do.
Now we are in the next phase of our evolution. That is STEAM+. Whilst maintaining the integrity of STEAM and its problem-solving potential, we are capitalising on the myriad of different connections between all subjects with STEAM+.
Why this is ethos is vital, is best explained by our Year 13 STEAM+ subject leaders.
“The principles of STEAM+ have been useful in allowing me to combine my interest in both the humanities and sciences. I found it very difficult to decide between the two when choosing my GCSEs and A levels. However, I have discovered opportunities in North America that allow me to continue to pursue interdisciplinary study at university level. Their system of combined majors and minors enables students to explore various subjects and the connections between them, thus specialising their course to their interests, lending itself perfectly to the idea of STEAM+.”
“My interest in STEAM probably stemmed from a visit to the Science Museum about 7 years ago – that, and my mega fascination with Doctor Who. The million-dollar “Bionic Man” had just been unveiled, complete with its own set of artificial organs, synthetic blood and robot limbs, all of which could potentially be fitted into a human body. Although I didn’t understand anything at all about how it worked (bearing in mind I was about 9 at the time), I was intrigued by the notion that science, technology, engineering, art and maths combined had accomplished something so remarkable and could benefit so many people.”
“I am studying Chemistry, double Maths, and English, aiming to study Green Chemistry at university. With regards to being a STEAM+ subject leader, the links between humanities and science is what first got me interested in pursuing a science degree, having for example read a book called Napoleon’s Buttons which talks about the significance of specific chemical molecules in historical events. This showed me how important interdisciplinary learning is, and has encouraged me now to find ways to combine different subjects, leading to my interest in the green aspects of chemistry which not only has a scientific backbone but also requires thought about social and political matters.”
“I became a Steam + leader due to my appreciation in combining both my creative and scientific demand. My infatuation in applying both design and technology was prompted further by a trip I took to the German Cinematic Museum in Berlin. There I was presented a variety of virtual headsets – when worn, these headsets borne different combinations of the virtual and real world. Here I was introduced to the future of VR, AR and MR. These devices could either create completely virtual and explorable environments, or act as extensions of real-world structures. From then on, I have strived to explore ways in which I could utilise this technology.”
Entrepreneur and computer programmer Aaron Swartz says, ‘Be curious, Read widely, Try new things. What people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity”. Climate change is not solely a scientific issue but also a social issue. This is why I decided to become a STEAM+ leader, as the interrelation of my A Level subjects -Geography, Biology and Economics – has enabled me to look through a different lens and a different perspective of climate change, before going off to university to study Environmental Studies
Our five STEAM+ subject leaders have recorded a WimChat podcast, so look out for this on Twitter and our website to hear more about their views on STEAM+ and how it is opening doors for them.
Last week we heard that Martine in Year 11 and Phoebe in Year 10 were both awarded prizes for their writing submitted for the Charles Causley Trust poetry competition. Reading Martine’s poem, we were struck by how it encapsulates the connections that can be made when subject disciplines dissolve and we can connect our thinking in different ways.
There’s a sense of magic in a place I can only half remember.
Where the faces and names are delicate leaves of my youth, falling in late September
And the neon signs with the squiggly lines glow dimly somewhere in my memory
But the falling leaves are hard to see and evade my grasp in an act of treachery.
The magic of the minute yet colossal differences, the bathrooms, the ads, and the subway.
My young eyes like a camera, spinning and capturing the scene of my beloved Taipei.
From my grandmother and my family came the knowledge of a culture I had amassed
When I could enchant in a language that rolled off my tongue like a spell I cast.
The brutal heat of London these days tugs at a memory in the back of my mind,
Of waiting by the food stall for seconds stretched to hours, pleasant and unkind.
I dream of a return where every piece falls into place
When I’ll feel the heat and humidity wrap me in a soft embrace.
There’s a tugging, restless longing in my heart
For a place I now understand as much as abstract art,
But I know its smells like the lines of my hand
And the sounds of the motorcycles revving were my favorite band.
There’s a chasm in my core when I return to the place I only half remember
Because the night markets are weary and bored and feel like a misnomer.
The dumplings taste all the same and the plane ride was too expensive,
And the disillusioned neon signs reveal the grime that feels incomprehensive.
There’s a suppressed sense that I wish I had never returned,
So it would remain the same golden red forever,
Only half remembered.
Martine’s poem ‘Taiwan’ might not initially appear to be particularly STEAM focused, picturing, through a foggy memory, the images, smells, sounds and beating heart of a city far away. At its core is a nostalgia for a memory – a memory which has greater beauty than the reality later experienced by the author. So what has this got to do with STEAM+?
Well – knowing that STEAM+ allows us to make connections between subject disciplines and to explore the ‘gaps’ between them, we can see many links: between the sprawling city and the people who live there; the sounds of language and the noise pollution of traffic; the role of memory and how we often experience emotions from the past more strongly than emotions from the present.
We have a beautiful new STEAM Tower, but STEAM+ is not a place, or a room, but rather a mindset. It is a way of thinking that allows us to not be limited by the subjects we study, but rather encourages us to see links between subjects to look at making connections, exploring new avenues, and solving real-world problems. STEAM+ is for all subjects, and for all students and staff at WHS.
Whether you believe the myth that ‘85% of jobs in 2030 have not been created yet’ or see this as being deeply problematic (it’s only 10 years away..), what we do know is that resilience, creativity, adaptability and critical thinking are going to be highly valued skills for the workforce of the future. Engaging with STEAM+ – our inter-disciplinary exploration programme – will help you to develop these in-demand global skills.
As a school, we want WHS pupils to step out to shape the society in which they live and work. What connection will you find that helps you to do this?