Words by Aaditya Tangri, Co-Founder & CEO of Kalebr Americas and Founder of STEAMathalon
Are we doing enough for our students? Casting our eye to the future of education, we can expect to see teachers increasingly becoming facilitators of learning, rather than directors, nurturing a generation of students who will be empowered to take greater control of their own educational journey and learning outcomes. Learning spaces will supersede the typical classroom that we know today, coexisting in both physical and virtual worlds, set up to allow for collaboration and self-assessment, and designed to facilitate students' self-direction in learning. Technological advances have flipped the current learning model upside down and enabled interconnectedness of information and people with the touch of a button because today's classroom reality is that learning can occur anywhere, anytime. Students can be working on projects in virtual contexts with other individuals or groups from around the world, and engaging with external communities through the channels offered by social media, whilst applying their knowledge to solve real-life challenges.
Students will become co-creators to their education, and in light of this shift towards a more personalised learner experience, teachers of the future must, therefore, be prepared to see their roles evolve into data collectors, as well as analysts, planners, collaborators, curriculum experts, synthesizers, problem-solvers and researchers.
Classrooms of today must focus on a combination of student engagement in learning, inquiry-based approaches, problem-solving, curiosity, imagination and design thinking, in order to future proof students for the workforce of tomorrow. Having said this, knowing how to find the most beneficial resources that will empower students to develop their skills in the content area while having their respective needs met can be a challenge when considering the typical class period length and the number of students taught per class. Increasingly, teachers will have the tools to design personalized learning plans for students, enabling each individual to learn at a pace that best suits their abilities, and to engage with content that is most beneficial to them. Not only this, but the efficiencies presented by new learning tools will free up more time for teachers to provide authentic and meaningful feedback to each student, and personalized learning materials critical for student success and futureproofing.
Future Ready Coalition partner iNACOL, an international nonprofit organization working to advance "powerful, personalised, learner-centred experiences through competency-based, blended and online learning", recently released Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. The report outlines distinct strategies being implemented to transform traditional, time-based models of education into personalised, competency-based learning infrastructures. In the report, Bill Zima, Principal of Mt. Ararat Middle School, describes learning without boundaries as follows:
“As the navigators of learning, our role isn’t to march students to their destinations, but to provide the feedback they need to get there themselves. While we try to keep them all on the path, we know that we will have some who will want to stop to smell the flowers… Nothing works for all students. But if we know where we need to get them, it makes it easier to guide them".
The “Mean What You Say” initiative by iNACOL further explores this new paradigm, stating: “The purpose of the personalised learning framework is to open student pathways and encourage student voice and choice in their education. Personalised learning is enabled by instructional environments that are competency-based. By tapping into modalities of blended and online learning using advanced technologies, personalised learning is enhanced by transparent data and abundant content resources flowing from redesigned instructional models to address the standards. By doing this, new school models can unleash the potential of each and every student in ways never before possible".
The leadership team at St. Vrain Valley, a Future Ready District, has developed a system that promotes persona student learning from beginning to end, including a focus on career pathways and design thinking.
“We have a whole host of opportunities that are available for kids, where they can take a look at what they think about, what they like, where their passion lies, where their aptitude is. And then they can pursue that. We open choice up, we open the boundaries up, and we let kids pursue these areas that they’re interested in. And we expect them to own it and to take responsibility for their learning. You have to develop a system that promotes engagement".
Casting our eye to innovations coming out of the UAE, scores of schools have integrated STEAMathalon into their curriculums. A product of Canadian education technology company Kalebr, STEAMathalon arms innovators of all needs and abilities with powerful tools and projects to control physical objects and solve real problems, empowering and engaging learners with 21st-century workplace skills that save time and create healthy, happy learning communities. The grassroots premise of STEAMathalon is that learners discover, innovate, market and celebrate together, working in teams and as high-performing individuals who belong to workspaces of the future.
The challenge kicks off after they are organized into teams and provided with a brief of a real-life challenge to solve. Learners use Kalebr's innovation and well-being framework to come up with exciting ideas that contribute to creating a "future-proof" portfolio. Guided by the teacher, learners launch into their projects independently, learning through discovery as they embark upon their journey. They create their designs with rapid prototyping. Learners think, learners do. They launch the coding tool to control and optimise their world-changing inventions. During this process, they quickly gravitate towards professional coding languages. They promote their inventions to the subject-matter experts and the larger community to establish themselves as thought leaders and change-makers. Teams are scored on creativity, innovation, sustainability, positivity, and the project as a whole.
One of the fundamental goals and benefits of STEAMathalon is that students get a chance to be more responsible for themselves as learners in a group setting. Educators and parents who engage with the youth in this way come to understand them better, gaining insight into their aspirations and the communities to which they belong. This makes it easier for them to meet the next generation's needs and to ensure the learning process is both relevant and challenging. Specifically, when students are happily engaged in their learning, educators are able to make the fullest use of their professional skills as educators and find ways to make learning more fun, engaging and relevant.
Noel Tuohy, Head of Year Five at JESS Arabian Ranches, also said the inquiry-based approach encouraged by STEAMathalon helped students to be creative, engage in research, think critically about the material they use, collaborate and reflect on outcomes.
"STEAMathalon is the best way to completely integrate different areas of learning for students. It is critical for the long term development and success of learners to ensure what is learnt in the curriculum is real, relevant and integrated into all aspects of their lives. And STEAMathalon achieves this. Not only that, but the enhanced, two-way learning partnership with educators promoted by STEAMathalon inspired students to make independent discoveries through self-inquiry within the setting of a supportive learning environment," Tuohy said.
Strategic outcomes of STEAMathalon are reinforced in the theory of the 2004 research paper 'The Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership', whereby author Andy Hargreaves wrote "where their voice is sought and heard, students are more likely to have enhanced learning partnerships with educators, be more motivated to learn, think more deeply, and understand and develop their skills as learners".
By sharing power and the responsibility for learning, educators set their students on a path to fulfilling the vision they have for them and honing their ability to secure a sustainable social, cultural, economic and environmental future for our country. Never before has it been more important to highlight the importance of developing new understandings about learning, rethinking the role of both the educator and learner and connecting learning more closely with the world beyond school, with all its unknown challenges.