Learn Plays Important Role in STEAM Program

Montreal - Friday, January 27, 2017

LEARN has played an important role in assisting the English Montreal School Board pilot the STEAM program.

One of the main goals of LEARN’s Open Creative Space/STEAM initiative is to help educators foster student engagement through active learning with high and low-tech materials. This can include, but is not limited to programming, using microcontrollers, robotics, constructing with cardboard, working with e-textiles and paper circuits, as well as designing and creating simple machines. But more importantly, we put an emphasis on the process of design, creation and collaboration and the maker mindset. It’s not really about the product, but about the learning that is happening throughout the process and the reflection on the learning, for both the teachers and the students.

LEARN’S objectives here are:

• To make STEAM more accessible through learn-by-doing and encouraging collaboration with community in open ended/semi-structured settings;
• To model the Maker Mindset for educators through a variety of professional learning opportunities;
• To build capacity at the school board level to support school-based initiatives;
• To develop partnerships with the educational community and other organizations.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, our own team began to explore emerging technologies such as microcontrollers and Raspberry Pi’s to see how they might be used in an educational context,” said Christine Truesdale. Director of Pedagogical Services and Educational Technology for LEARN. “We pooled our resources and knowledge and got our feet wet. We learned so much from the experience and wanted to pursue it.” 

Later that year, we thought that it would be important for educators to feel like learners again and join us in our explorations. We started hosting Open Creative Space sessions with educators at our office and it became our living lab. We hosted a session a month, and asked people to simply sign up, show up and get their hands dirty – no lurking allowed. They just kept coming and we knew we were onto something.

LEARN also began working with specific schools and school boards on a variety of levels. Many schools were interested in setting up Makerspaces, but didn’t necessarily know how to begin. Added Ms. Truesdale:

“Our team provided support and PD sessions with staff to help them build a vision of their spaces, but with a focus on learning and process, rather than the ‘stuff.’ We also began piloting a series of STEAM challenges in the classroom with teachers and their students. We needed to model the open-ended learning situations for the teachers with their own students, because they needed to see how it plays out in their classrooms.

In 2016-2017, LEARN continues to work with many English schools and school boards across the province. The goal is to build capacity at multiple levels in the system, by working with school board staff, pedagogical consultants, RECIT and ICT consultants, administrators, teachers, community learning centre development agents, librarians, lab technicians, and students alike. “We are also looking to expand our community partnerships, because we can’t do it alone. We need to pool our experience to create sustainable spaces for our learners,” said Ms. Truesdale. “We see that this kind of approach can provide opportunities for intergenerational exchanges, life-long learning and the sharing of expertise from the local community to enrich the learning experiences of the students and those who support them. Our schools need to be connected to what is going on in the broader context of innovation, what is happening in the ‘real world,’ in order to stay relevant.”

The members of Ms. Truesdale’s team that are working on this project at EMSB are pedagogical consultants Chris Colley, Sylwia Bielec and Thomas Stenzel.

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