Can STEAM power a shift in Chi­nese schools?

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINESE TRAIN PROJECTS AROUND THE WORLD - By LI JING li­jing2009@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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