Friday, 22 July 2016

4 things I learned from our STEAM Co. workshop

This week, I had a fantastic day at Broadwood Primary School. Teacher Mel Horan organised a STEAM Co. day of lots of different activities, and I was asked to host a Thinking Kit workshop. There was huge variation; from lavender bag making to writing/performing music, to rocket firing!

Mr STEAM Co. introducing the day of creativity
Mr. STEAM Co. Nick Corston
I arrived at 7.45am and Mel gave me my own STEAM Co. passport, which all children would also receive. It had details of all of the activities and a space for a letter next to each. The more workshops children visited, a secret message would be revealed. A nice extra touch to encourage them to try new things.

Our spot was the computer suite, and I was gifted with the company of Broadwood’s ICT/Computing Lead, Jeanette Bowden, and Bridgewater teacher, Tracy Philipson. The facilities were great - lots of iPads and fast laptops. Tracy had used our content-based apps, Digital Mysteries before so that was a helpful start. We thought the most challenging things would be the varied ages (6-11) and that they could come and go as they please. Jeanette mentioned that one thing that could be on our side is that the children would hopefully help each other. Time would tell!

Two students discussing their iPad activity
Two students and I, discussing their activity
After a welcome assembly, it was time to begin. Jeanette, Tracy and I hurried back and awaited our first arrivals. Sure enough, we had a mixture of ages: 6-9 year olds. The best thing to do first was have them explore Digital Mysteries, so they knew what types of activities they could create. They particularly found ‘Who killed King Ted?’ cool and younger children liked ‘Why didn’t Amy go to school today?’ Within five minutes, many started asking when they could create their own, plus at the same time, more children appeared, ready to join in and ask what we were that was when the fun really began!

Here’s the four key things I learned:

  • Children teach each other

    This was really lovely to see and particularly prominent, I think, because of the flexibility of the day. The vast age difference between some of the children in our workshop, meant that natural instincts to help others came to fruition without us asking. With some being very young, they hadn’t typed in a web or email address before, so older children showed them what to do, what to type and where to click. This meant that although being young and at this stage of learning meant they couldn’t create a task on their own, they played a part and learned some key skills as they went along.

  • Let passions shine through

    If you’ve not heard about Thinking Kit before, it allows teachers and students to create their very own app-like activities for iPads. We can’t speak to everyone who's used Thinking Kit up to now, but some that we have, have told us that students have created activities on a range of things - but often curriculum-based. This is great and one of the key things that helps integrate the tool into day-to-day school life, but this day was all about freedom and creativity. For this reason, I left the topic completely open.
    A task all about Batman being created:
    1 & 2: Creation side. 3: In the app.
    Some students needed a bit of help to think of an idea but others thought of topics straight away. 'Lightbulb moments’ included activity ideas to discuss children’s Minecraft expertise, whether Cinderella should go to the ball, Batman’s exploits and why some YouTubers are so popular! 
    While these aren’t “curriculum topics”, they ignited the passion the students needed in order to help them become content creators. Whilst they were getting excited that they were using their favourite hobby as part of a school activity, they were also developing many skills. A few to name; often collaboration, writing, targeting a particular audience, research, web-skills of sourcing relevant images and saving/uploading them plus general digital skills.

  • Don't assume

    As I mentioned earlier, one of the challenges was going to be suiting the workshop to different age groups all at the same time. This then led me to believe that maybe younger children would either be able to stick with ‘solving’ our own mysteries or only creating a task with strong guidance. Now, whilst these two things definitely did work well for some children, one of the younger children actually made so much progress that he created four tasks all on his own! At the beginning, I sat with him to guide him through some of the things that were new to him but after that, he was on a roll! Whilst I’d expected only year fives and sixes (age 9-11) to create full activities predominantly on their own or with peers, this boy and a few others actually proved me wrong - with a little guidance and passion for their idea, children can achieve their goals independently. It was lovely seeing the students share their tasks with others too.

  • The simpler the instructions the better

    Pre-Thinking Kit, we had Windows software that enabled people to create their own activities. This tool formed the basis of the Thinking Kit Creator, but our developers had to have a big cull in terms of features to make it accessible online and also to open up the tool to more children. Because we made the tool a lot simpler, we thought we had the bare minimum of what someone would need to create an activity. However, seeing primary children using the tool for myself, opened my eyes: we still had a few advanced options that can be hidden away for those who know to look for them. Examples include adding a Reading Stage or extra instruction: just their presence meant those few more precious minutes being used to ask what they meant (when these features weren't particularly relevant for a student creating a task for a peer).

    The key is to suit tasks to different audiences - our original and very advanced Windows authoring tool is still very useful to some teachers, but they know what they are looking for and so the extras help rather than hinder.
Helping one of the younger students to create an activity
Helping one of the younger students
The day was brilliant. Everyone involved - from the teachers, to teaching assistants, to members of the local community and different businesses, and of course the children - worked really hard to make the day a success, and it most definitely was!

For more information on Thinking Kit and how to get the free app and a free trial to the activity creator that the children used, please visit You can also read our last blog post for details on how to get involved with STEAM Co. here.

Some examples of students' work...

Task 9774 'Should we go to the beach?'

Task 5159 on Robin Hood

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