Can STEAM power a shift in Chinese schools?
Ethan Danahy, director of engineering research at the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, has visited China three times to lead workshops for Chinese teachers on the idea of STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
This educational philosophy originates in the United States and aims to break down the barriers between art, hard science and math, and encourage problem-solving skills and collaborative creativity.
“It’s cutting edge,” Danahy, an assistant professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts, said in Beijing on May 6. The philosophy had “come up in the last couple of years and is starting to grow”, he said.
Danahy’s teaching trips in China are funded by Danish toy giant Lego, as part of its educational programs. He has been looking at educational technologies, which for the past decade have included how Lego bricks can be used to introduce students to engineering as early as elementary school.
Since 2009, a number of K-12 programs in the US have flown under the banner.
In November, Shanghai also launched a pilot program to introduce the model at 12 elementary schools and kindergartens. More schools in the city are expected to join the program in autumn.
Yuan Gang, deputy director of the Shanghai STEAM Research Center for International Education, said Chinese children generally have a solid knowledge of science and engineering, but tend to lag behind in divergent thinking and dynamic problem solving.
Danahy said he believes Chinese schools could all potentially introduce STEAM, although he warned “teachers have to be more fluent in many different targets”.
In fact, he said, teachers Lessons at school are not that heavy, but I’m busy with different kinds of special classes. One of them is the Lego Afterschool Center, where I have a two-hour course every weekend. The courses are about the subjects we learn at school, but instead of sitting still and listening to the teachers, I’m encouraged to think and work out solutions to problems. can often be the biggest challenge in the transition. “When a teacher teaches across subjects, it means they have to understand all those subjects, which requires them to be confident and dynamic in their knowledge and how they teach.”
In addition, while hands-on tools can help engage students in class and make abstract In each class, the teachers introduce some basic physical principle or math knowledge, give us a mission, and then I team up with others to finish it. After that we make up stories based on what we learned. The best thing is there is no definite answer to any mission, so I’m free to do what I think is right. Last weekend I made a dancing bird using some engineering knowledge. It helped me to understand the basic physical principle knowledge tangible, they will likely pose difficulties for teachers.
Ren Hui is a science teacher at the primary school affiliated with Peking University, which in 2000 became the first school in China to introduce Lego’s education systems.
“It was a brand-new teaching resource,” she said. “I had to play and learn it myself of the lever, which we studied at school but had me still confused. When I was making the dancing bird, the principle became real. I’m not sure this way is suitable for classes on subjects such as math and literature, as my class has about 40 students and some are very naughty. I don’t think it’s easy for our teachers to manage them. They will affect others in class when they’re given the freedom to do what they like. from scratch. But the more difficult part was to adopt a teaching approach.”
Danahy has found that, across China and other Asian countries, teachers are concerned with the pressures of standardized tests and the rigid, structured academic settings, which make it difficult to bring in new methodology.
“The transition is very difficult because it is not just one switch, one thing that you have to move,” he said. “You have to change many variables simultaneously. It is about the students’ and the parents’ perceptions of schools, education environments and administration.”
Li Yatong, a math teacher at an international primary school, explained that, unlike teaching systems in the US, teachers at Chinese primary schools teach a single subject with separate curriculum targets. “It is not easy to integrate these subjects with all other sorts of topics,” she added.
To get around that, Danahy suggested teachers should be partnered up to implement a project.