Nochmall opens in Berlin: everything except new!
My interdisciplinary neurones are still tingling from training ten lovely teachers from Spain, Italy, Croatia and Portugal in Berlin this month. The subject: how to bring more creativity into their schools to engage, inspire and include children for the 21st century. A noble ambition. The teachers came from 5 very diverse schools, from kindergarten level to 18yr olds, state school to specialised industrial colleges, for a week-long course on the STEAM approach. STEAM is essentially: how to bring multi-disciplinarity, reality (i.e. ‘the world outside’) and creativity into the classroom. STEAM = STEM subjects, i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics combined with the ‘A’ of Arts & Design.
As a trainer, language coach and facilitator who likes to use creativity as much as I can, usually in the business and academic worlds, Europass asked me to give the course as part of their extensive and growing teaching training offering. The course also needs to help children attain the much-quoted ‘4 Cs’ of creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking, and with the class we spent time reflecting on what creativity means in the realm of teaching. And no, I didn’t add a C for concentration – also a much-needed skill in my view today, by children in particular – or for circularity, although I was tempted. That could be for a further course.
A long time ago, in 2002, I was the Deputy cultural attaché at the French Embassy in London. A dream job where I spent my evenings going to at least one arts event a day for over two years: it meant I saw dance, theatre, fashion, design, art and music every week, and got paid (not much) for it, and drank a lot of champagne at a lot of vernissages. Time to bring that all back again and use it to inspire teachers to inspire children (without the champagne, admittedly; tea from the staff room would have to do).
Quite a challenge: what would a lesson on photosynthesis, on digestion, or, closer to my expertise, on circular economy and biomimicry for 15 year olds look like, bringing in e.g. mathematics, technology and music, or plastic arts? What about for a 5 year old? I took my group, on my initiative, to spend half a day at Futurium. It’s Berlin’s recently opened and much talked about space diagonally opposite Angela Merkel’s official residence, dedicated to citizens of all ages, on how we want to live in the future. I know the place well and was invited to its official opening two years ago – it seemed perfect as a living lab for the teachers to create engaging multidisciplinary lessons in. So I sent them on a mission in pairs, to work on a theme of their choice and turn it into lesson material for their students back home in Zagreb/Prato/Zaragoza/Lisbon.
Themes covered included Time, Nature and the City, Biomimicry, Circular Economy, Housing & Architecture, AI & Robotics. The next day we looked at lesson plans and the STEAM approach, in the light of our discussions. We ended the week with more creativity exercises I designed for them, looking at nature in the city, and rethinking the way the various schools they taught at integrate – or don’t – multi-disciplinarity. One school in Spain has its own dedicated classroom for bringing together the different subjects: very pioneering. Another college in Italy has a WhatsApp group for getting teachers involved in multidisciplinary work. As for kindergarten teaching: ‘the teachers here are gods’, one of my participants, the headmistress of her school admitted – and they have to teach several subjects anyhow, so they’re doing STEAM continuously, without realising.
One of the main lessons I learnt from the teachers I taught was: if we don’t inspire and energise teachers, keep them interested, learning, and (a little bit) passionate about their subject/s, then they won’t inspire the children they teach. Or the other teachers around them. So teacher training is fundamental, and Europass and similar courses are vital for doing this, getting teachers out of the box, to a foreign, creative and edgy city like Berlin, to rethink how they teach, and meet others from totally different kinds of school. I look forward to training more teachers, students, employees and other profiles around creativity and multidisciplinarity, and where these can be combined with themes such as circular economy, then all the better.
A big thank you to the teachers I trained and to Europass and Erasmus+ for this opportunity.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation and educational materials on the circular economy: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/our-work/activities/schools-colleges/teaching-learning-resources