Full STEAM Ahead

Around this time last year, I wrote a blog that analysed what it meant to be a dancer in an educational setting. I discussed the value creative subjects had on the curriculum as a whole; what skills it gave our students in terms of moving on not only in to Further and Higher Education, but also eventually into the world of work.

It seems that not a day goes by where I do not see an article about the power of creativity and how it plays a vital role in both developing young people’s transferable skills, and what is also a thriving industry from an economical point of view. Creative Industries careers currently account for 1 in 20 jobs; contributing £84.1 billion a year to the UK economy. By 2020, these figures are expected to show that Creative Industries will be one of the top three areas of employment in this country. The children of today will be doing jobs that do not even exist yet.

You may recall a huge government push for pupils to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), which led to a great increase in the uptake of pupils choosing to study these for both GCSE and A Level. It was felt that students were not making enough progress academically in these areas and that they were also important to future industry. In the last fifteen years of its implementation, attainment in these subjects has risen across the board. This in turn led more pupils to study STEM-related degrees and seek employment in these fields of work. At the end of last year, a study by the Higher Education Policy Institute said that the “prioritisation of STEM [whilst clearly showing huge benefits to the quality of learning and achievement in schools, could have potentially been] at the expense of other subjects”. JCQ states that entries for Creative Arts subjects had taken a six per cent decline in 2016 and that the figure had further declined last year. The study also states that pupils opting to study Design has dropped by a staggering 42 per cent. These finding indicate the lowest levels since 2000, pre-STEM, and therefore inadvertently “downgraded [Creative Arts] to non-core subjects albeit remaining part of the National Curriculum”.

This latest research gives the impression that perhaps STEM is perhaps a little short-sighted and maybe too restrictive.  All learners benefit from working creatively not only to express themselves, but to also allow greater scope for lateral thinking alongside the logical. There has been a revolution in the thinking behind STEM; in order for the Arts subjects to be included and not left behind. This is why here at Ipswich High School; we are championing the STEAM initiative instead (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). The inclusion of Arts subjects gives our learners both a greater breadth in choice, but also skill development that other subjects do not always allow for. Learners are encouraged to study a broad range of subjects, rather than pigeon-holing themselves with a narrow field. All creative subjects will involve some kind of project-based or research task which will mean students need to meet a brief; they allow students to express and develop their own ideas, problem-solve, work independently and co-operatively, show innovation, take an existing idea, concept or product and improve them, encourage people to look at things in a different way and present an idea with conviction and passion. These are attributes that could easily read as the person specification for a corporate job application.

It still amazes me in this time of round-the-clock instant news and content-rich media that studying creative subjects is still given a stigma by our government and, in fact, lots of schools around the country. If creative subjects are driven out of the curriculum, how does anyone expect not only those key industries along with the traditions of theatre and music, but also design and fashion to survive? Where will the next generation be honing their talents? We have a duty as educators to give our learners as many opportunities as possible and not to hinder genuine passion and talent.

With this STEAM initiative in mind and looking for ways to promote collaborative learning, I approached our Science Department with the idea of combining both Science and Dance. Dance has been growing considerably as a subject since its establishment in the curriculum back in 2015; and with Science Week a big feature in our calendar, I saw an opportunity to show our students not only links between the subjects, such as Anatomy and Physiology and the Physics behind Ballet to name two examples; but also how they could use their scientific knowledge to actually create dance. We are really quite excited about this. To give you a better idea of what this looks like in practise, we currently have each class looking at a specific topic that directly links to something they have either already studied or are currently learning in one of their Science subjects: the classification of animals, forces and motion, wave formation, radioactivity and the solar system are all featured in work happening in the dance studio. It is fascinating to watch the students draw upon their scientific knowledge and then apply it with their wonderful creative skills to come up with some really unique and interesting work. The language and vocabulary being used clearly defines the purpose of this project – fostering links in learning and the transferable skills.

Of course, with all of this fantastic work happening, it was only right that we have an outlet for the pupils to share their work. Therefore, we hope that Dance will also feature during Science Week with some bespoke lessons and activities in Science that have a dance-focus. We also have our dance show at the end of this Spring Term to celebrate the work that has been happening in both lessons and enrichment time. I hope this collaboration ignites a new passion for the subjects or continues to foster the love for learning that all of our pupils demonstrate every day. It would be wonderful to see that someone’s love for both dance and science took them on to some ground-breaking research or allowed them to take a role within a professional Dance Company or Sports Club, working directly with performers and athletes to improve their training and career longevity. If STEAM wasn’t part of our ethos here at Ipswich High School, then I’m certain that I wouldn’t see this happening. So for now, I look forward to the coming weeks, months and years and where they may take us.

The dance show will be held in the Hayworth Theatre on 26th and 27th March at 7pm and will contain both class work and student-devised pieces all with a link to a science topic. Please do come and support the students taking part in this and to see for yourself how each subject matter has been approached. Details of tickets will be released in due course.

By Rebecca Curtis, Head of Dance

2018-04-11T08:38:50+00:00