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STEAM as a mindset

By Deputy Headmaster Teaching and Learning Steve Uscinski

I was recently invited to speak at the annual Big Ideas Summit held by Independent Schools Queensland. My brief was to talk to school leaders representing dozens of independent schools in South East Queensland about the Brisbane Grammar School STEAM project. While the construction of the precinct increasingly dominates the BGS vista, I focused instead on sharing the rationale for STEAM and the thinking and planning that has shaped all our decisions.

A 2022 OECD study on the international trends shaping education identified that “the labour market is rapidly shifting its demand from routine skills to complex, high-order cognitive and attitudinal competencies”. The current generation of school students must be prepared for a world where linear, single-track careers will not exist and where the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, take advantage of new opportunities and solve unforeseen problems is the norm. Affording students opportunities to problem solve, collaborate, create new knowledge and have strategies for dealing with the unexpected are not optional extras in a robust education but are essential to the student experience.   

Brisbane Grammar School has always made important decisions about educational strategy, planning and policy based on rigorous research and the gathering and testing of evidence. The acronym STEM was first developed in the USA in the late 1990s in response to declining PISA scores. The STEAM concept, emerging about 15 years ago out of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial culture and advanced by leading universities like Stanford, emphasised the essentialness of developing cultures of creative thinking and problem solving if organisations were to continue to grow and thrive into an uncertain future.

One influential engineering paper made the case by demonstrating that “STEAM doesn’t merely add art to STEM … it changes STEM’s focus from better test scores … to better quality of inclusive thinking and from focus on the development of a larger, technically competent workforce … to one that is also more innovative”. The congruence with Brisbane Grammar School’s commitment to providing a broad liberal education and to preparing our students for being the leaders of the future is clear.

The STEAM concept explicitly aligns with our commitment to being a ‘thinking’ organisation, just as the ‘A’ overtly values the creative and the innovative in the balanced education our students undertake. Our commitment to STEAM has been a key driver of our shifting professional conversations to the refinement of pedagogy and instructional practice, particularly in terms of visibility and intentionality. Our commitment to continually improving the quality of the student experience is realised not only in the inspiring new facility itself but in the targeted feedback and advice for growth and improvement that our teachers provide.

As our Year 12s complete their final IAs and begin in earnest their preparation for the External Assessments in October and November, managing and regulating their thinking and being confident in dealing with the unanticipated will be dispositions essential to success. Similarly, our Year 10s are in the process of subject selection, where making well-informed decisions and constructing a balanced course of study that provides options and opportunities is central to a fulfilling Senior experience. Finally, our Year 8s recently engaged in a highly challenging and enjoyable Innovation Summit, working in teams to solve various real-world problems using cross-disciplinary skills.   

At Brisbane Grammar School, we see STEAM as a mindset and not simply a building.

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