Full STEAM ahead Embracing hands-on learning

Issue: Volume 99, Number 7

Posted: 18 May 2020
Reference #: 1HA7Wr

Lunchtime at Taupaki School: students of all ages descend on the school’s dedicated STEAM classroom and well-resourced technology block to explore wherever the worlds of technology and their imaginations may take them.

Lily shows her mum, Jane Setchell, her STEAM creation.

Lily shows her mum, Jane Setchell, her STEAM creation.

Technology is a big deal at the Year 1–8 school, which has created its own Taupaki Technology Learning Model(external link) that references design thinking principles and provides a structure to working through challenges together. Staff from across the school work together to enable the sessions, says principal Pete Hall. 

“Our people are amazing! They have come to technology from different places and walks of life and are passionate about, and committed to, providing this type of learning. All of our teachers are provided with professional development and have opportunities to learn and share,” he says.

Opportunities to create and explore

As well as in-school technology classes, lunchtime STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, maths) sessions give students the opportunity to explore projects ranging from wearable art with an ecology focus, to Makey Makey(external link) musical instruments, kitchen science, tracking tunnels, and giant robots made out of junk from home.

“It is an opportunity to deepen the skills and knowledge from STEAM lessons which all classes attend. We’ve celebrated STEAM learning through a whole-school event before, but now our learning model creates a shared map that allows design thinking and the STEAM work of our technology team to weave right throughout the school,” says Pete. 

Students can follow particular passions or join in skills learning, which works with their natural creativity, at STEAM Club held at lunchtime.

Taupaki Team Leader Emma Davis and Reagan play ‘Whack-a-Mole’.

Taupaki Team Leader Emma Davis and Reagan play ‘Whack-a-Mole’.

“It provides students with the opportunity to explore concepts they may be passionate about that may not fit into that term’s learning or curriculum. Having sessions at lunchtime makes it equitable for any student to attend and students work with peers across year levels, which promotes tuakana teina (mentoring).

“It’s another way to ‘be’ for kids who haven’t found their groove through other learning opportunities, and it complements our classroom learning and the whole-school learning model too,” says Pete.

Hands-on experiences important

Technology has traditionally been taught to Year 7 and 8 students, with a large number of skills to learn in a short amount of time, says Pete. Providing STEAM-based ‘maker experiences’ at school means children can take risks in a safe, well-supported environment where they can learn the scope of their capabilities, extend their creativity, and experience real ownership of learning when time and effort have been put into creating a great outcome.

“Students are able to think in a ‘future-oriented’ ‘what-if’ mindset to innovate and problem solve – something which is inherent to every task,” he says.

Parent, Paula makes a Play-Doh controller for her son Chris’s game.

Parent, Paula makes a Play-Doh controller for her son Chris’s game.

Many benefits

“The key benefits of the STEAM sessions are that students learn from each other and create outcomes together. Older students are able to teach the skills they have learnt in technology to younger students. They can see how their peers tackle challenges and apply those strategies to their own project outcomes,” says Pete.

Benefits of allowing students to make, create and follow their passions include:

  • developing skills and ideas that apply to high school projects and beyond
  • learning can be made relevant for the needs of the school and community
  • real-life contexts are woven through learning to show students the true value of STEAM skills and knowledge in the real world
  • promoting self-belief for students as they face their own challenges and realise they have the skills to be independent.

Taupaki School has dedicated space, time and funding to ensure an inclusive approach, and taken the time to make a sustainable learning model that connects the whole school. 

Some keys to success have been:

  • anyone can come and join. It’s a social binder for all ages and interests. 
  • know when the students are the experts and can lead their own and others’ learning.
  • seek support. Know that teaching in an open STEAM space is not about leading learning.
  • open the door – experts are everywhere, and a wealth of skills and perspectives can come from unexpected corners.

Pete says Taupaki School welcomes visitors and is happy to support schools on their STEAM journey.  If you’d like to get in touch with Pete you can contact him here.  

Research on Makerspaces

Learning to code, programming Lego robots and using 3D printers are some hands-on activities that could change the way children learn. A collaborative research project between the University of Waikato and Hamilton City Libraries is looking at the learning impact of makerspaces.

Dr Elaine Khoo is the project lead and says that STEM (science, technology engineering, maths) literacy across the population is fundamental to sustaining social, economic and environmental growth and wellbeing, as well as our capacity to solve the interdisciplinary challenges facing 21st century society.

In 2018 the university team ran a pilot evaluation of Hamilton City Libraries’ free mobile makerspace programme called the LAB. Parents and caregivers reported the LAB programme encouraged their child’s learning of STEM/STEAM skills, along with digital skills.

“Making and tinkering is an important part of learning. There’s evidence that children who participate in after-school makerspace programmes can develop STEM interests and skills through experiential, exploratory and collaborative learning experiences,” says Elaine.

The Design-Tech sewing machines are just as important as the 3D printers.

The Design-Tech sewing machines are just as important as the 3D printers.

She says that makerspaces are based on fundamental ideas of good learning through discovery, exploration, play, tinkering, making, following one’s intuition, troubleshooting and trial and error. 

“These are life skills that go across many disciplines and provide a useful basis for supporting and pursuing STEM interests. Also, the notion of using recycled materials to promote more sustainable environments as part of the maker movement is another valuable idea for children to be introduced to from young,” she says.

Supporting ‘Maker educators’

Support for maker educators or those facilitating makerspaces, especially out-of-school makerspaces, can be built into a specialised curriculum to help them develop the pedagogies associated with learning through making, says Elaine.

“Some of these valued maker pedagogies for interacting with children include modelling, asking questions, collaborative play and scaffolding explanations of how things work.

“Very few empirically-based resources or research exist to support maker educator learning in New Zealand. The few that do refer back to overseas web-based resources,” she says.

“Given the potentially important role makerspaces play in supporting in-school and out-of-school STEM learning, it is important for us to look into ways for supporting and extending maker educator learning and practice if children are to gain wider benefits from the STEM-based learning activities.” 


Teacher and student kōrero

Teacher Courtney Edwards is Taupaki School’s design technology lead.

Q: What do you love most about STEAM Club?

A: Student creativity and engagement. The way everyone works together solving problems for one another and contributing to each other’s outcomes. The pride students have in their outcomes – even the ones that ‘go wrong’ are still viewed as successful because of the experience gained.

Q: Can you give me an example of a project where kids really got inspired about the potential of STEAM through their project?

A: A group of students who are passionate about the sea created lit-up sea creature soft toys as talking points to promote ocean conservation. The more they researched and understood about the ecology of waterways and innovations to help, the more detail they wanted for their own outcomes. 

Q: What are the key things that a teacher needs to do to facilitate STEAM exploration and learning?

A: Allow for student interest and knowledge to shape learning and have a process or framework in place to support it. Have fun making alongside students and demonstrate trying, failing, improving. Connect with others for support and ideas – other teachers, school leaders, community and outside experts.

Tamariki love STEAM Club

Q: What’s the best thing you have done or made at STEAM Club?

Luke: I can’t choose because everything is awesome like making my wood shelf, my stuffed toy, and designing games.

Carson: The coolest thing that I have made was my glow-in-the-dark fishing lures.

Lucia: My favourite thing I’ve made was a narwhal toy and its 3D model prototype.

Emma: I have loved everything I have made, but my most favourite thing was the wooden shelf I made for my dad.

Q: How did you design or make it?

Luke: I used Scratch to design and make a game to teach others about extinction. 

Carson: I planned my lure out on paper first then went onto Tinkercad and printed it. Once I roughly had the lure design, I then needed to find the size it needed to be. I found some cool looking lure skirts. Once I had the size perfect, I printed the head and got the skirts. I just need to finish the process by putting it all together.

Lucia: I designed the toy myself and made it with fabric and lots of cutting with stubborn scissors. I made a 3D model of it with the 3D printer first.

Emma: I drew my design. 1cm = 1M. I decided to have three spaces to put things on. I made it by sawing wood with a handsaw and putting it together with glue and nails.

Q: What did you learn from making it?

Luke: The basics of all the things I need to do to make a successful game and design something to appeal to others.

Carson: I learnt with trial and error that the skirts and head needed to fit perfectly.

Lucia: I learnt how to make my first toy and what it takes. I was very fascinated by how the 3D printer added layer upon layer to make the object in the centre.

Emma: I learned you have to make sure your cuts are perfect and that the pieces have to be lined up perfectly too.

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:40 PM, 18 May 2020

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