Independent Education Winter 2019

Independent Education • Winter 19 44 The idea to group science, technology, engineering and mathematics together in a focused way in school curricula, and to refer to them as STEM subjects, first occurred in the US in the 1990s. 1 I t was not long before this approach expanded to include the arts and the acronym shifted to STEAM. Somerset College in the Western Cape has taken STEAM a step further by incorporating entrepreneurship as an essential and complementary skill that children need in order to thrive in the future. Thus the approach adopted by the school has become ESTEAM. The ESTEAM innovation building completed in February this year, is the embodiment of this approach, and a symbol of the school’s ambitious commitment to prepare our students for life in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. How the ESTEAM complex came to be The story of the ESTEAM Centre from conception to fruition bears a brief retelling. After the school’s previous executive head, Meg Fargher, visited schools in the United Kingdom and returned convinced of the need for a space for cross-curricular engineering and construction projects at Somerset College, a shed for this purpose was conceptualised. As discussions within the school at staff- and at board-level ensued, and nascent ideas around introducing STEM to the school developed into the more well-defined ESTEAM approach, a synchronous event occurred. Fargher and Nicky Newton-King (current chairperson of the Somerset College board) attended a heads’ and governors’ conference hosted by ISASA at which London- based, award-winning architect Michal Cohen delivered an inspirational speech on the topic of school design. The meeting of minds which followed was soon formalised as the Somerset College board appointed Cohen to design a cutting-edge innovation building complete with coding and robotics rooms, innovation and solution spaces, a makerspace, a reflection space, a physics laboratory and art rooms, as well as office spaces for educators and various social or small-group breakaway spaces. The end product is a centre where teachers and learners will be limited only by their own imaginations. A culture of collaborative enquiry The ESTEAM Centre was explicitly designed as a transformational and aspirational space. It is envisaged that relationships between and among teachers and students, as well as the curriculum and method of delivery will all change significantly. The design of the spaces within the building unequivocally encourages a culture of collaborative enquiry and interdependence which values the uniqueness of individual contribution in the creation of original solutions or products through group work. Writable glass boards as well as moveable, reconfigurable desks with write-on wipe-off surfaces and adjustable seating, all suggest a different, more active and collaborative requirement of teaching and learning. Building ESTEAM at Somerset College BY CLARE SEARLE

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