STEAM to the Rescue

November 27, 2018 at 11:22 AM

STEAM - an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking – has become well embedded at the Girls’ School over the course of 2018. Underpinning STEAM is a focus on design thinking; a mindset and approach to learning that includes collaboration and problem solving. 

Since their early exploration at the start of the year with new technological equipment, the girls in Years 7 and 8 have extended their ability to code and think critically, learning to work in groups to pool ideas for the best outcome. Over the year, problems posed have become increasingly complex as the girls’ knowledge and skill base has widened.

Early in the year, the girls experimented with Spheros, a spherical, rolling robot which the girls learnt to program to complete circuits whilst applying mathematics-based geometry. From learning how to code the Sphero to roll around a square, they added further constraints such as specific distances, then moved on to other more complex shapes such as scalene triangles.

Now well versed in programming, the girls were posed a bigger challenge.

Having learnt about the plight of refugees during World Vision, the girls were tasked with designing and building a small water-borne vessel, powered by Spheros, to cross the swimming pool accurately to rescue ‘refugees’ (Lego people) and return them safely to the other side.

The girls had to use their science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematical skills to design the vessel, before building them using recycled materials. They had to consider buoyancy, density, surface areas and discover what types of materials would float in water. Following the design process, the girls collaborated to create prototypes to test in 120-litre containers of water to see if they would float and then revisited their designs to create more efficient boats, adding bottles, ping pong balls or air bags for increased flotation.

Once they were happy with their designs, they prepared to launch them on the pool - but there was a catch. They were also presented with a heart-breaking, ethical dilemma – there were 130 ‘World Vision refugees’ waiting to be rescued on the far side but they could only take eight. Who would they take and why? This caused some impassioned discussion. Year 8 students, Millie Paris and Brooke Murdoch both said they would choose to take eight children on the vessel because ‘they would live longer and could have a better life ahead of them.’ They added that ‘the parents would be more capable to fight for themselves and their country.’ 

The boats were launched and driven across the pool, dodging obstacles and carrying the load. The girls were pleased with both their vessels and their ability to code accurately to drive them remotely – but they were left with an understanding of ethical dilemmas and the realisation of the difficulties faced by both refugees and those tasked with helping them.

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