Collaboration, innovation and challenge: creating STEAM opportunities for schools

Richard Donnelly, STEAM Schools Manager at London Borough of Camden, explores the role of co-design of curriculum between teachers and employers

Camden has a flourishing creative, digital and scientific economy. But how do we ensure that young people living in Camden really benefit from these opportunities? How can they develop the creative skills and dispositions required to work within Camden’s STEAM economy? The work of Camden STEAM exists to enable young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to access the plethora of opportunities on their doorstep.

Camden Council’s STEAM Hub Leadership Programme aims to facilitate a more connected curriculum in our schools and encourage greater fusion in creative, digital and scientific education. Teachers in the Hub are supported to design curriculum that allows young people to make connections between different STEAM subjects; apply subject knowledge to solve real-world place-based problems facing Camden; design creative products and outcomes; and learn about careers in the creative, digital and scientific Camden economy through in-built employer partnerships in the curriculum. This is achieved by teachers working in co-design teams, working alongside Camden employers to design compelling STEAM curriculum projects.

Developing interdisciplinary learning

Five multi-disciplinary groups were formed containing teachers, local employers and student artists from Central Saint Martins Fine Art BA. Student artists provided a range of inspirational creative, digital skills and alternative insights that enhanced teacher’s creative curriculum design. The aim was for each group to produce a compelling scheme of learning for a particular key stage which was developed over several months through a series of collaborative online workshops. Each had to contain an employer partnership; make rigorous connections between the disciplines; be tethered by an overarching concept and driving question; and enable young people to practice creative thinking by applying knowledge to a local problem or challenge.

For example, teachers at Edith Neville and Argyle Primary Schools worked alongside colleagues from contractors SCS Joint Venture (main Civils contractor for HS2 in Euston) and a User Experience (UX) designer from a local software firm– to design a project on the theme of ‘connection’. Within the project, children learned from a Building Information Modelling (BIM) designer about how to design and construct physical connections, specifically, bridges.

Cultivating creativity through challenge

The outcome of this approach developed activities that cultivate creativity in young people. Working collaboratively with employers offered creative ideas to enhance the curriculum. For example, a structural engineer from Arup designed a task for secondary students that modelled how to think about biophilic design. By creating a pre-recorded video and sketchpad example, she asked young people to redesign a space (such as their classroom) to have greater connectivity to nature.

This involved teachers from several Camden secondary schools (including a Science, Geography, Engineering and Art teacher) collaborating with colleagues from Euston developers Lendlease. A group of Lendlease consultants fed into the process that also included engineering firm Arup. The project aimed for young people to apply their knowledge from several subject disciplines to design a wellbeing garden for Euston – that responds to some of the ecological and social challenges facing Camden.

Students were set a brief and design-criteria by a structural engineer and a project manager and had to produce a presentation explaining their final design for the garden alongside outcomes which included a scale drawing and model. Furthermore, students had to creatively respond to real-world problems and criteria posed by consultants from Lendlease. For example, responding to how their design addressed societal issues of social isolation and loneliness in addition to broad issues such as climate change. By having a creative and authentic real-world outcome to the project, students developed a deeper and creative understanding of their academic content. For a successful wellbeing garden, students had to connect and learn ‘with’ their knowledge including ecosystems and ecology in science; civil engineering and biophilic design principles in engineering and; understanding of Euston as a place in Geography.

Supporting schools to teach for creativity

Camden Council’s STEAM Hub Leadership Programme allowed space for inspiration and innovation. The collaboration between employers, art students and teachers not only positively impacted pupils but also created new development opportunities for teachers and teaching staff.

“It has changed the way I look at curriculum design. The quality of curriculum design skills from employer partners was amazing - I had thought they would bring expert knowledge but had underestimated their ability to design engaging curriculum experiences for students. Students will get to know so much about an industry from this approach.”

- Kate Barry, The UCL Academy

Schools working alongside student artists and employers both in-person and online using digital tools can have a powerful impact on the design and implementation of a creative curriculum. It is through this collaborative approach to curriculum design that creativity can be fully integrated into the curriculum, through processes such as employer generated activities and masterclasses; and the design of meaningful, real-world design challenges to which young people can creatively apply their knowledge and understanding. The teachers involved in the STEAM Hub Leadership programme over the 2020-21 academic year now have a set of resources that can be used to inspire others and lead on creative curriculum design within their schools.

Camden STEAM will be launching a new website next year. Do make comments about this blog on twitter using #CamdenSTEAM.

Richard Donnelly is STEAM Schools Manager at London Borough of Camden. Camden STEAM.

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