Manual for a work in progress in secondary schools =
Manuale per un work in progress nelle scuole secondarie di segundo grado
By Cristiana Angelini, Andrea Catalani, Marina di Foggia, Alessandra Marcaccio, Rosella Rossi
We all know that feeling of lightness that you do feel when you are about to embark on a journey: excitement for the departure while the mind empties itself while accumulating the kilometers that you leave behind, forgetting the everyday issues and worries, opening up to live the “new” you are about to experience… In order to cross the doorway and enter into the world STEAM it is necessary to experience the same sensation, feed on expectations and empty the mind. But how to do that? We suggest you do a backup of your experiences, save them and keep them in your memory, to free up space and welcome what you will discover to be new. Let us approach this cognitive journey aware that the road could be winding, but fascinating and that the beauty of the destination will be the payoff.
In the past the explorers had the important task of divulging their discoveries so that others could make new ones; exciting them to explore the unknown. We, teachers, have the same role: to stimulate, encourage and motivate our students to enter the future and live it in the spaces of the present. We think of the STEAMs in these terms: minds feeding on other minds; a journey as explorers in the most fertile lands of infinity.
S of SCIENCE – our STARTING POINT
Opening the dictionary of the Italian language under “Science”, the first definition we find is “the result of the operations of thought” applied to a problem. The STEAM approach takes from science precisely this ability to seek solutions to certain problems, in the awareness, however, that those of today could be questioned tomorrow, modified the day after tomorrow or insufficient in a certain number of days.
The S, therefore, is the result already acquired but perfectible or no longer satisfactory; it is the experience fixed to our present. And that’s what allows us to go further. It is our starting point. In a STEAM activity the S of science is used to identify and study the problem, to establish the cause and to show us the solutions adopted so far. It is the solution process applied to our present and it is the first step towards the future, towards what we can discover different and new.
T of TECHNOLOGIES – the TOOL of CHANGE
The technology represents, in a STEAM activity, the practical operational aspect or better the set of tools that are necessary to concretize the solution to an initial problem. Technology reminds us that we must keep up with the changing times and suggests letting ourselves be intrigued by the new, aware that it will not be possible to solve a situation today with the tools of yesterday. Technology suggests we leave the comfort zone.
E of ENGINEERING – the IMPLEMENTATION METHOD
The engineering E is the implementation method. In an activity, STEAM allows you to identify what you can do with what you have available. It is not enough to have a list of tools if you do not understand how they complete each other and can be put into a system within a solution process. From engineering, the STEAM approach borrows precisely this ability, remembering that the effectiveness of a design is based on the combination of “user competence” and “complexity of the tool”.
A di Arte – CREATIVITY as TRESPASSING
From the A of Art, the STEAM approach takes creativity, an innovative and disruptive element in the Stem alphabet. In fact, art serves to broaden horizons and to approach things in a completely different way.
Science provides the clues, technology offers the tools, engineering proposes mechanisms of application, but all this leads to solutions that have already been tested. Art creativity is the keystone, it is divergent thinking, the ability to see beyond, it is what makes the experimentation process unique and indicates the way to try. The key to everything lies in freedom and in not setting limits; (As in the metaphor of the Camel-Lion-Child of Nietzsche – Thus spoke Zarathustra), and, to do so, we must use the same point of observation of the child who looks at the world with the eyes of purity. So that perception can be free from any stereotype”.
M of MATHEMATICS – EXPERIMENTATION towards RESULTS
The M of mathematics is the constant exercise towards the desired result. It is the awareness that continuous attempts must be made for the equation to be solved. The M, in a STEAM activity, remembers that gathering feedback, applying it, changing the project, returning to the original problem, researching new formulas, attempting and trying again, are all important moments as they are representative of the experimentation process. M develops lateral thinking which, following the logic of perception, allows us to push ourselves toward the solution.
Each of us has experienced at least once browsing a page with a poor connection. You have waited patiently while playing with the image of a digital dinosaur trying to deceive the wait. But what does the STEAM approach have to do with this game and the lack of connection?
The STEAMs are configured as a didactic opportunity that allows you to revolutionize the traditionally understood lessons by overturning the concept itself. The students learn by asking questions; starting from functional learning that allows them to actively intervene with the baggage of previous experiences, they develop cognitive learning, researching and applying independently and in an innovative way, the mental mechanisms that allow you to transform inputs into complex thinking. But above all, STEAMs promote the passion for learning, which is the mission of education tout court.
The substantia of this apparently impossible approach is in its realization process that appreciates the experience of failure, as it generates sensations, emotions and solutions that will lead to rebirth.
In other didactic-innovative methodologies, the feedback arrives only when the “game is over” and represents a sort of binary go-no go. In STEAM, however, the path is worth more than the result and the error contributes to success. It follows that the role of the teacher is also overturned: from educator-prompter he becomes educator-motivator, always ready to improve and rethink his own educational ways.
Reversing the educational stigma involves:
Emotional contamination (feedback)
Plurality of the goal
Before taking the first step, it is important to dwell on the Zero phase, specific for the teacher, whose activity consists in building a STEAM activity, preparatory to the realization of the experimentation course. This is accomplished in 6 steps, in 6 courageous actions:
FOCUS: study in depth the challenging objective by identifying the opportunity
The first step is to focus the goal and understand the output. In this phase the teacher must support the students by motivating them. What is the focus in a STEAM path? It is recognizing the essential; focus, dig into the proposed inquiry, identify the essential question to be answered. Once you understand the meaning of the challenge, you move on to the second step.
2. CLUES: detect what is already known
In this phase, the elements relating to the proposed inquiry, already treated in the focus, are observed, explored and analyzed. The teacher asks questions and carries out a brainstorming useful to examine the clues that bring out basic information, skills, key processes that the students have previously acquired. The students are invited to express themselves freely and are encouraged to make connections between the challenging objective and their cognitive and experiential background. In this way, preconceptions and misconceptions are drilled into. Once the baggage has been defined, it must be put away to activate the third phase.
3. DISCOVERY: leaving the comfort zone to think about an alternative and sustainable solution
The third step leads to leaving the comfort zone. The stimulus is to go beyond what is known, even through provocations. The students, starting from clues and evidences, are pushed to probe the unknown, without fear of getting lost, to find an alternative solution, which is therefore extraordinary and applicable in the future.
An important role in this phase is played by the A of art: the new answers do not make use of what we already know and that is stored in the computer of our mind, but come from new attitudes, from seeing life differently, from our unknown and bravest selves. It is in this step that ideas are built. But what is the destiny of these ideas? Where do the observations go, the vision on our students?
4. IMPLEMENTATION: shaping ideas using technology and activating reactivity
In the implementation step, the experimentation exercise is started, a characteristic, specific to the STEAM path. The students, by choosing the right tools, or creating new ones, give shape to the generated ideas, making them practicable and sustainable. In this phase, technology and art, or better creativity, play an important role. It is, in fact, through a creative use of tools that a concrete and shareable idea is made, the realization of which is supported by the technological tools that represent the real facilitators of the STEAM process.
5. PRESENTATION: sharing work by stimulating opportunities for feedback
In this phase, the work carried out is presented in order to obtain feedback and judgments that can also lead to changes in the direction itself or to the improvement of the starting idea. The presentation should not be understood as a final delivery of the path, but as a useful moment to question everything that has been conceived and created. During the presentation step, the students freely express their perspective and welcome the opinions of others, as moments of growth, comparison and as an opportunity for success.
6. CONNECTION: reflect to take a step forward
The sixth step, the connection, assumes that everything can be modified and therefore further experimented. In this phase, the students use the feedback gathered during the presentation in order to improve their work. In a STEAM path, therefore, the goal is not to obtain a definitive product, but to activate a continuous process of experimentation. The last step is therefore not represented by the output, but by the review exercise and any modification. The experimentation activity could continue indefinitely, but for educational purposes the sixth step is considered the last one so that teachers can start the evaluation process of the experimentation activity.
The educational value of this phase lies in allowing students to understand that the path is worth more than the result.
Considering a STEAM Path
The consideration of the STEAM path abandons the old paradigms to adopt a new EDUCATIONAL OBSERVATION system, understood as the identification of the encountered strengths and weaknesses. The adopted evaluation criteria consider not only the content or the knowledge acquired, but the approach that has been activated during the entire process.
With this regard, we suggest three EDUCATIONAL OBSERVATION criteria:
Innovation in the storytelling tools: how committed are the students to finding creative and innovative ways to present their idea of solving the challenge.
The originality of the content itself: how much the students tried to go beyond the knowledge already gained and how much the proposed contents were examined in depth.
Wow effect: how much the product really amazed the rest of the class and the teacher.
Anything that does not fit into a standard model and creates disorder, we like it!
The STEAM class is the place where it is possible to develop the transfers (the stimuli) and where the creative identity of each one can break through. Activating a STEAM class is apparently complicated and could lead to chaos and disorientation. The goal is not to be frightened because doubt and error are integral elements of the path and an opportunity for the development of creative and inventive skills, above all, of complex thinking and reflection. In a STEAM class, topics are explored from many points of view, students trace the natural connections, not always easily identifiable, between different areas and sectors.
The role of the teacher, on the other hand, is to build a non-directive atmosphere, creating favorable conditions, an adjustable learning environment, and a climate of well-being aimed at enhancing everyone’s talents. During the process of activating doubt, typical of semi-structured experimentation, the ability to react in front of an obstacle is implemented. The STEAM teacher listens but does not judge, he examines the error inviting the students to reflect on what went wrong. Through life coaching and motivational leadership activities, the teacher stimulates reflection on the activated experimentation process: through questions and provocations, does not indicate paths to follow, but transmits confidence and encourages to take even winding roads.
In the STEAM class, freedom is the responsibility to be.
What follows is a hypothetical time frame for organizing a STEAM experience. We took into consideration a time range of one week, but obviously the agenda must be customized on the basis of the organizational needs of the teacher and above all with respect to the difficulties of the challenge proposed to the students.
PHASE 0 (preliminary): outlining the path. The teacher or the entire class council will have to choose a multidisciplinary topic altogether with the methods and deadlines, devising and planning the challenge. The teacher and/or the class council will detect within a discipline or a multidisciplinary topic, the aspects of reality that make it possible to activate a STEAM path.
DAY 1: the goal is to excite students and awaken curiosity and an inquiring approach in them. The first day will be dedicated to sharing the “rules of the game”. The students will be informed about the characteristics of the format, the timeline and the effort required of them. It is important to indicate the time available and the criteria by which the course will be evaluated.
DAY 2: the goal is to organize the team work in a heterogeneous way, favoring the inclusion process. The key word is to engage. The students must feel as an integral part of the “challenge” that the groups will undergo, while avoiding to specify the outputs to be made (videos, podcasts, poetry) and focusing on encouraging them to have an extraordinary attitude, far from their comfort zone.
DAY 3: the game passes into the hands of the girls and boys who, after identifying the meaning of the challenge, the focus, will have to collect the clues: that is, the analysis of data and information related to the topic and necessary to activate the STEAM path. It is also the moment to brainstorm the first useful ideas to respond to what is proposed.
DAY 4: discovery phase. The girls and boys, activating their creativity and stimulated by the teacher-coach, leave their comfort zone and experience the new by freely choosing the path to take, the tools to use and discover.
DAY 5: implementation phase. The students experiment by giving shape to their ideas, use the chosen tools and activate their creativity. The goal of the STEAMaker teacher is to push them to dare by crossing the limits of the known.
DAY 6: output phase. The work done up to that point is called into question. The presentation is aimed at gathering feedback from the other teams, sharing one’s work in an arena of constructive contamination with the aim of providing stimuli for subsequent experiments, aimed at improving the project. The result is achieved gradually, also incorporating failure which, in this context, is leading to successes anyway.
DAY 7: connection phase. Each team reviews the work based on previously received stimuli and feedback to produce a further solution. The students live the experience of resilience, empathy and courage, exercising the Future, continuing their work by pushing further and trying to overcome doubts and uncertainties, in a continuous search and discovery of that part of the time that has not yet taken place.
Preparing the path topic is a central process for the success of a STEAM path. If the objective of the challenge is to intrigue and stimulate the students by trying to excite and involve them, some precautions must be considered when building the challenge.
The context needs to make the students feel safe, free to dare and to fail with creativity. They must become aware that the goal of the STEAM activity is not the discovery of a truth known by the teacher but the construction of a personal opinion and a possible solution to a real problem.
The narrative (storytelling) is essential to engage participants and keep their enthusiasm high throughout the entire challenge. The theme must excite them and must be perceived by them as a problem to which they are particularly sensitive or that touches them personally. Whatever the challenge, the narrative must have modern connotations and use a language close to that of the students. Carry away your kids to the challenging environment you have imagined!
The choice of the challenging path is fundamental for the full and lasting involvement during STEAM activities: it should not be too long or difficult in order not to create frustration and discourage the participants.
Context and roles.
Within the challenge it is very important that the context is outlined and roles are assigned, otherwise it can lead to a lot of confusion. An example: your school has received a grant from the European Community to encourage the recycling of plastic, propose some feasible solutions. In a challenge like this, there are a lot of things we don’t know:
The budget, from 30,000 to 30 million, changes everything.
In what role do they face the challenge? Student, Professor, Headmaster, General Manager of the Regional School Office, etc.
What kind of a project? Communication, physical products? etc., etc.
In what space-time am I? Today, yesterday, tomorrow, in the near future?
In which physical place am I?
Freedom of action
It is very important to leave the choice of the tool and the methods of approaching the challenge to the student. We never indicate what we expect as output (videos, podcasts, software, apps), but in storytelling we insert suggestions to make them understand that we expect a courageous approach to the challenge and therefore the possibility of experimenting with new tools and new knowledge.
Clarity and Transparency.
We are clear on what we expect from this path. The output does not matter but the learning path, the engagement does. We share the evaluation criteria, built to encourage and not judge, so that our students can understand the importance of daring. We remind ourselves and make students understand that getting out of the comfort zone is what drives the implementation of the typical STEAM skills.
We present the STEAM path by putting ourselves to the test as teachers. We dare. We share using an innovative tool ourselves; it is us that get out of the comfort zone first. Let’s set an example.
The teacher must prepare the assignments and share them clearly. It is recommended that the objective and directions of the STEAM path are put in writing.
The rules for team work must be respected to avoid confusion during the activities. The students need to recognize each other’s roles within their team.
The teacher can gradually document the process in order to offer topics for reflection and show the value of the experience to the other parties involved, encouraging the students to identify problems on their own.
When drafting the challenge, it is recommended to keep the focus on problems concerning the environmental and social context of the students.
The experiences reported below are from teachers who went through the STEAM activities in their classroom environment during their work. Many projects are in the execution phase, others have been improved, in tune with the STEAM style, based on the skills acquired afterward.
Premise: the STEAM challenge was presented to a third grade students in AFM (Administration finance and marketing)-International Relations with curriculum Marketing during my STEAM training, when I had not yet learned the procedure or the related steps. Since the beginning of the training, however, I have perceived that the STEAM was the right way for a revolutionary teaching. In fact, the results were surprising, the students worked actively and independently, presenting at the output stage proposals in line with the STEAM vision.
After dividing the class into teams, I gave them the following challenge: How would you present one of Dante’s Inferno songs to contemporary teenagers in a modern and engaging way? In the First Canticle, select the Song that you consider most suitable, remembering that you must present it effectively, using any tool and aid. Remember that your proposal must be effective for the students of tomorrow. So, everything that is already present is in the past! Dare and get out of the comfort zone!
The challenge was launched after the assimilation of the contents related to the Divine Comedy, to which several weeks of analysis and re-elaboration were dedicated. The students were left free to choose what to present and, surprisingly, some of them opted for songs not addressed in class!
Puzzlement of the students in front of a request that does not indicate the way to follow. Our student are not used to taking responsibility for choosing and managing work. During my presentation a student asked me if a Power Point presentation would be okay! I told her to think about the new, the PPT is valid, however alternative ways should be identified.
Identifying the professor in an unconventional role. In the Italian school the figure of the teacher is considered a guide for the students, that is, the teacher should show them what to do and how to do it; this makes the students less autonomous and less free to try. In STEAM, on the other hand, the teacher is like a coach, who does not enter the field with the team but follows them from the bench. The coach represents the expert, that is the one who facilitates self-awareness and creates learning opportunities. This is how we allow our students to think in an unconventional way. A necessary prerequisite is to “work as a team”, to create a relationship of trust with the students.
Management of output times. It is necessary to identify the right moment to ask for at least two outputs; the teacher must mediate between little and too much time elapsed since the launch of the challenge. In fact, too much time allowed risks losing the interest of the students but also being too pushy can cause anxiety and discomfort.
Assessment. With STEAM, we need to get used to and accustom our students to evaluate the path and not the final project and, to consider error, as an opportunity from which to start again in order to improve.
The STEAM challenge “profession reporter” was launched to a first grade class in Administration, Finance and Marketing with the aim of getting the students interested in an unattractive topic from the geography program: the economic sectors in Europe. The challenge transformed the entire class into an editorial office for a television news organization, where a director asked 6 reporter crews to create an investigation on 6 different topics (the primary sector, the secondary sector, tertiary sector, transport, the classifications of economy, the labor market). Each troupe had to choose the most captivating and innovative subject and means of communication, in a maximum of 5 minutes, to communicate the result of their investigation to a television audience.
The launch of the challenge was done by projecting a clip of almost a minute, in which the students were invited to dive in the reporter’s perspective. The students were not completely extraneous to the object of the challenge, as, during the previous lessons, a 10-minute video investigation by Roberto Saviano on the theme of migration was analyzed in its semantic structure. Also the group work was not unknown to the students because it was proposed not only for geography topics, but also for economic issues, addressed by the colleague teaching economics, in an interdisciplinary work. Despite these premises, the students found it difficult to get out of their comfort zone and to understand that what I was offering them was something different from what they had experienced up to that moment: at the appointment of the first output almost all the groups showed up with Powerpoint drafts and expecting to be examined on their work.
Overlooking the most obvious reasons that would justify this result (students still immature, period of the year full of school assignments, alternating presence of part of the class due to distance learning, choice of the technological support already used for previous tasks) certainly, an error was also made on my part in presenting the STEAM approach, because the students did not take it as something new, extraordinary but as a sort of level-up of a normal teamwork.
Each work presented had the advantage of containing, however, a good degree of in-depth analysis and an attempt to go beyond the notions of the textbook: starting from this strength, without expressing judgments, I asked all the groups to analyze their presentations and to think together if the proposed product could be suitable for TV. The students themselves realized that their product had to be modified because it was not suitable to meet the challenge, and if one group tried to use a video game as a tool (but failed to finalize), another tried a program different from Powerpoint to create a sort of animated podcast, the other groups instead found out that Powerpoint had the ability to record voices to accompany the slides. The final video product is the result of all this opportunism and criticism. At their discretion, however, the students have critically analyzed their work by proposing possible solutions to make the final video even more adherent to the challenge. My final opinion is that the STEAM experience was only partially successful because I was unable to let the students enter from the beginning in a different perspective, thus expanding the timing of the challenge excessively with a consequent loss of enthusiasm. We will try again by learning from our mistakes, aware that the good planning and presentation of the challenge by the teacher guarantees a better involvement of the students.
The challenge was proposed to three Tourism and International Relations Prime classes. The starting consideration was: in our daily life, we already practice separate waste collection. But are we sure that we do it in the best way, or is there a possibility that through the use of digital and new technologies, it can be carried out in a way that guarantees greater protection of health and the environment?Information provided to the students:
- search online or in the reference environment, the current experience and draw any inspiration (clues);
- do not limit the imagination (discovery);
- evaluate the feasibility and sustainability of the project (implementation);
- ask for the support of other teachers, if deemed appropriate.
- The teams, composed of 4-5 students, formed themselves on the basis of organizational needs, as a lot of work had to be done outside the school context.
- The course took place asynchronously, with weekly progress checks.
- Two time constraints have been set: first a presentation date as well as the output date, following the work improvement process.
- The evaluation grid was developed with the collaboration of the students.
- The reactions of the students were mainly the following two types:
– REACTION A: curiosity towards an “innovative” learning process and enthusiasm for the freedom to explore and express themselves;- REACTION B: resistance to undertake the creative path based on the STEAM experimentation and difficulty in identifying “own” objective without the guidance of the teacher.For the sake of completeness, REACTION A mainly characterized the female students; REACTION B above all – male students.
- All groups, to different extend, worked with great interest during the Clue and Implementation phase.
- The female students shone, with some excess of competitiveness, especially in the Presentation phase.
- The greatest difficulties arose during the connection phase, that is receiving feedback. The male students, more than the female students, showed a lot of resistance in the review process and accepting criticism.
- Mistakes were not always accepted as an element of growth in the learning process.
- Only a few groups fully addressed the issue of project sustainability.
FEEDBACKreceived by the teams during the Presentation and Connection phases
- Smart waste bin for use in small spaces: PROJECT EFFECTIVENESS EVALUATION.
- Height of 1.5m with top opening and 4 individual internal bins.
Feedback: difficult access for children and people less than 1.5m in height.Solution: redesign with side opening.
- Automatic opening.
Feedback: charged by what kind of energy?Solution: power supply with solar panel positioned on the lid.
- Recognition of the type of object to suggest the internal bin in which to deposit the material
Feedback: software for image recognition is needed.Solution: check the Artificial Intelligence technology already on the market (perhaps cost unsustainable).
- Ecological island in a district and/or condominium or in a public area: SUSTAINABILITY ASSESSMENT OF THE PROJECT.
- Diameter of at least 5 meters and access by staircase
Feedback: difficult access for the disabled and people with mobility impairment.Solution: redesign the access without architectural barriers.
- Loyalty card for reward points
Feedback: not very innovative magnetic card reader.Solution: recognition via chip profile card and rewarded points notification.
- If in the public area, island detection via App service and location.
Feedback: how much does the App and the location system cost?Solution: verify sustainability in case of both public and private financing.CONCLUSIONSThe element that emerged most strongly was represented by fear of confrontation and judgment, typical of students of this age group.The possibility of being free to create and browse, for many was seen as a game and resulted in a lack of initial commitment, which needed work, repeating the characteristics of the methodology.At the end of the experience it came easily to me that the STEAM activities were suitable for students aged 16 or over. I realized that I had let myself be influenced by the performance and the need to achieve a result. I made the mistake of not considering that in that age group the need to “play” is still persistent, and that learning takes place along a path. One has to adapt but the STEAM has no age.