Fostering science interest in children: STEAM conference in Barcelona
Mid April saw the celebration of the first Barcelona STEAM conference on the premises of CosmoCaixa. STEAM stands for STEM + A (Arts). “But what is STEM?”, many people, friends and family, have asked me. It is an acronym referring to the academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. This term was coined 15 years ago by the National Science Foundation from United States to designate the necessity of an integrated science education in schools. This need was the result of a wide-spread concern about the decline of science education and innovation in United States, and a concern about the gap between the provided classical education and the required 21st-century skills. As a result of this awareness, education policies around the world, especially in the United States, Singapore, UK, Sweden and Finland, have introduced innovative STEM projects starting from elementary schools, and have strengthen STEM training for teachers. Over the years, the emphasis acquired a new dimension: to foster creativity and curiosity within STEM, and for this a general concept of ‘Arts’ was introduced. And thus the term STEAM was born.
The increasing number of STEM initiatives around Catalunya have lead naturally to the first STEAM Barcelona conference at CosmoCaixa. Personally, attending the conference allowed me to talk in person with educators and representatives of institutions that I highly admire for their dedication to fostering curiosity for the world in kids of all ages. I will mention a few:
- www.edutopia.org – George Lucas Foundation for changing the education system, from kindergarten to secondary school, inspiring creativity, passion for learning through innovative, replicable, and evidence-based programs.
- www.scientix.eu: the community for science education in Europe, an initiative of the European Comission, to promote and actively support Europe-wide collaboration among STEM teachers, educators or science researchers and policymakers.
- http://www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk, www.stemnet.org.uk and www.sciencelearningcentres.org.uk – centers from UK that work together to provide state-of-the-art facilities for training anyone involved in the teaching of science, from teachers, to school directors and volunteers.
After the two days of the conference, I left with the feeling that the STEM fever has finally arrived in Catalunya, and especially here in Barcelona. The city of Barcelona, through the collaboration with the New York Academy of Sciences, initiated last year the project STEM Barcelona, consisting in bringing science to high schools through workshops organized by PhD students. The Catalan Research Foundation (FCRi) together with other foundations initiated last year Petits Talents Cientifics, a program for fostering the passion for science in elementary and secondary schools, for training teachers and strengthening the participations of parents in science projects. Associations, universities and schools have joined in European or National projects to provide the material and the training for science teachers starting from elementary schools, as it is the case of Escola Carme Auguet in Girona. In other places, parents have joined together in organizing science festivals or workshops at their children’s shools.
All these exemples are only a tiny fraction of the STEM initiatives around Catalunya, as researchers on science or education, teachers, parents and school representatives have initiated projects or self-organized science for kids of all ages. Research institutions in Barcelona, such as the PRBB and IRB, together with museums and schools, actively participate in these projects.
Nevertheless, there is a long way to go, as this is only the beginning. The gap between the education system and the real world’s necessities and opportunities is very big, and it is changing so fast that we cannot expect the education system to adjust accordingly. Therefore, I strongly feel that, as parents and researchers, we need to pro-actively participate not only in large scale science festivals, but at home and schools, protecting and nurturing every child’s spirit of curiosity, engineering, innovation and creativity!