Provocative questions like this are now beginning to replace traditional academic subjects in schools, according to Peter Mahony of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.
Instead of isolating Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM), several pioneering schools throughout Australia are now delivering multidisciplinary, project-based lessons, that are centered around these driving questions.
The classes -which are up to three times the normal size – are led by multiple teachers from various academic domains who leverage their combined expertise to help students answer driving questions (like ‘can robots write poetry’) throughout the module.
“Driving questions immediately require the interplay of knowledge from several academic subjects when coming up with an answer”, says Peter. “They really get young people thinking and developing problem solving skills across a variety of different areas at the same time”.
Peter says this collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to teaching works because it gives context to academic theory.
“Tell children in a technology class that they are going to analyse the linguistic style of a source text and regenerate it algorithmically [the process by which computers generate poetry] and many children will immediately shut off”, he says.
“Using driving questions such as ‘can robots write poetry?’, while synchronizing the learning environment with pedagogical approaches which emphasize learner choice and control, fosters high levels of engagement”.
In a broader sense, the approach also trumps traditional classroom models as it more closely represents the nature of tasks students will be faced with when they enter the workforce.
“Australia has a national STEM skills shortage”, says Peter. “We really have to challenge the way we are currently teaching if we are to meet this demand in the future”.
Within this novel approach, teachers from multiple disciplines get together to plan and deliver lessons collaboratively – a process which requires a rethinking of how a teachers’ working week will look.
Peter Mahony will share details on how schools have successfully implemented this model at the STEM Education Conference – due to take place 25-26 July in Sydney.
Reflecting on a number of case studies, he will also discuss which driving questions teachers can formulate to deliver engaging, project based modules that excite young people – and fully utilize the STEAM acronym.