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STEAM and Creative Education... or "How about a nice game of chess ?"

Mar 30, 2021

STEAM and Creative Education... or "How about a nice game of chess ?"

The finest situation a group of young individuals can find themselves in is being intregued, excited and developing a passion for something that will hugely contribute towards their personal growth, greatly enhance their knowledge and overall learning, and build up a credible skill set ---- Any signs that a student has an interest in something that is clearly beneficial to their development should be seen as a chance to nurture that student's interest, encourage it, and assist them in their desired learning.

So why "chess"?

Well, "STEAM" and other "workshop and/or activity-based learning" was something we all missed out on as children, so there's a part of us that really wants to push for more opportunities for students at all levels, to enble them to develop the kind of skills they wish to possess, specifically the skills they need to be able to do the kind of work they enjoy, with a sense of "I own this skill!"-style confidence.

As a group of young school children on holiday back in the early 1980s, we decided to watch a movie called "WarGames"(1983), which turned out to be the most exciting movie we'd ever seen. It was a movie full of chases, terrifying moments of suspense, fantastic performances from the entire cast, and an edge-of-your-seat climax that literally had our hearts racing... But what we loved above all else was the introduction this movie gave us to computers.

The idea that we could play games with a computer against its CPU, or program it to play music , or even use it to draw pictures and possibly even animate them was incredibly exciting --- We'd seen the wonderful Mr Matthew Broderick do it in the movie, and although in later years we discovered some of the computing we see on-screen involved a little trick photography, we nevertheless knew that computers existed and that it was possible to learn how to use them... and not just to play "chess"... or "Global Thermonuclear War".

On the first day back at school, we asked our homeroom teacher HOW we can get access to a computer and HOW we could learn how to use it. We all remember this day, and the response still haunts us all now. "I donno", the teacher said, followed by, "I suggest concentrating on how to improve your grades from last term." So we asked another teacher we always saw as a slightly friendlier figure, who said, "You went to see a war movie? - Bet you loved all the blood and guts!" After a few more attempts, it was clear that what we were interested in learning about was not going to be a part of schooling, and with no internet in the 1980s, we were left asking our parents about technology they knew nothing about and certainly couldn't afford. The only place with any books related to computers was the public library, which was a huge building full of cobwebs and dust that no child ever frequented unless they were on a day out with their great grandparents.

We'd hit a dead end, and even now we can all recall the feeling of frustration we felt that day. After all, this didn't seem like we were asking for the moon, and this was very different from our usual frustrations, as we weren't moaning about not getting a skateboard or new sneakers for our birthday - We were actually eager to learn something in a very serious, dedicated manner, but to this day the lack of effort from our surrounding educators to nurture our creativity and aspirations hasn't been forgotten.

There was another huge punch in the gut to come, which confirmed our teachers had not taken our request for assistance seriously, or even given it any thought at all. It wasn't until we were all leaving that particular school and helping to clear out the "teachers only" storage rooms that we found a number of BBC Micro Computers that had never been used. When we refreshed our teacher's memory about our interest in learning more about computers, and how the teachers could've started an after-school club for us, he simply said, "Well, you can't learn very much from computers, so you haven't missed out". If only we could have opened up a portal into the year 2021 and shown him the world we live in now. It almost seems like it was easier to hand everyone in the classroom a big knife and have us dissect frogs every week, rather than attempting to introduce something new and radical that was doubtless complicated to explain to children, but something we would've all promised to put our minds to and worked hard at.

Even when we went our separate ways to our next schools, the pattern seemed to repeat itself, with our requests for any insight into simple programing or rastergraphics taken as if we were speaking greek, and even the idea of learning more about traditional techniques, such as cell and stop-motion animation, always ended with that familiar "I donno" from the teacher.

Times have clearly changed though, and educators are now selected for their undestanding of how to get the best out of every student.

Oddly enough, decades later, some of us moved into the field of education, and despite having not seen each other for a number of years, we all shared exactly the same approach to teaching - We did whatever we could, going the extra mile, to ensure we were helping every student with their learning goals, which often included fighting for the funding needed for computers and software, art equipment and design tools, architectural kits for robots and gadgets, and anything else that the students would otherwise not have access to at home or elsewhere.

21st century STEAM classes enable students to freely experience both digital and mechanical technology, electronics, CAD (computer aided design), 3D printing, graphic design, animation, programming, and everything in between, coupled with the core S-T-E-A-M basics that glue every learning activity and project together.

Funding for STEAM is still in its infancy, and there are amazing fundraising organizations working relentlessly to provide for the science and technology labs of underfunded schools, as it's clear that the world's requirements of its workforce has changed dramatically over recent years.

Many markets have funneled into entities that it's impossible to compete against, having perfected their trade and acquired countless dedicated followers, so this means we have to find as-of-yet uptapped avenues for lucrative new businesses. Add to this, our highstreets are disappearing in favour of online shopping, which means that gone are the days when you could say, "Well, if all else fails, I'll just get a job somewhere on the highstreet." We thought some of these movements would take another decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the process exponentially.

By the time the next generation graduates, it may be the case that they NEED to create their own unique products and be able to program and run their own websites in order to make a living. So now more than ever, STEAM and Creative Education will play an important role in preparing the minds of children and young adults for the future --- The mind is a creative muscle that needs to be pumped, and it would've been fantastic if our teacher back in 1983 would've at least demonstrated the BBC computers the school had hidden away, but we had to wait until we were much older, and we were then all off to a slow start, and we've never fully caught up - When we're asked to write a commandline program, we're all scratching our heads for the first five minutes, as they do say that the youngest mind is the quickest mind.

In summary, anyone who has ever spoken to the Choc Edge team about edcuation knows how strongly we feel about putting in the extra time and effort to nurture the minds of students, and how we encourage educators to adopt and support the concept of STEAM and Creative Education.

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