Skinners’ Academy is located in Royal Tunbridge Wells. It is a boys’ day school from grades 7-12.
The school gained specialist science status in 2002. It has a reputation for excellent academic achievement in maths and science. The school has also been awarded Green School status demonstrating a high level of measurable commitment to sustainability including recycling programs along with the extensive use of solar power.
The school has a committed STEM focus driven by an underlying theme of the circular economy and environmental sustainability. Projects wherever possible take into the finished product, the materials used and end of life impact on the environment. The environment is vehicle for STEM delivery.
STEM is delivered through a number of channels including extension and enrichment, partnerships with other local schools and through an approved integrated STEM subject in grades 7-9. As with most other UK schools, grade 10 assessment processes dictate that subjects revert to discreet subject areas.
Students have recently completed a VEX robotics project culminating in attendance at a schools competition. VEX offers a robotic experience with design and construction, testing and programming in robot-c. The robots tend to be larger than LEGO NXT for example and teams of 4-5 can easily work collaboratively. At Skinners’ there is an expectation that senior students will mentor and support junior students while also conducting outreach activities in local schools. A strong pastoral care system and connections to community are valued.
In this instance students become STEM ambassadors and actively promote, support and encourage STEM thinking among peers, other students and the community.
One example is a partnership managed by Mark Moody with Oakley Special Education and Needs School nearby. On my visit to Oakley I was able to observe an environmental and outdoors experiential learning environment very much developed through the support of Skinners’ boys and the STEM program. A number of projects had been completed such as a sensory garden, eco-classroom, large biodiversity pond, wildlife cabin and extensive seasonal garden. This initiative while different to many of the more ‘high tech’ STEM initiatives I saw during my trip is an example of the many faces of STEM, all of which are valid learning experiences.
The integrated STEM subject runs through KS3 and has incorporated the subjects of Design and Technology, ICT and Creative Arts. This blending enables the school and the teaching staff enough flexibility to design projects that offer an engaging STEM experience while meeting curriculum and assessment requirements. The challenges, as expressed by other schools doing similar programs are to have staff with the skill set, passion and ability to deliver what is by nature a broad program. At times the maths and science faculties are called upon to provide content or explicit skills teaching required by students during their STEM time. This can prove challenging due to timetabling and inter-faculty commitments and beliefs.
Head of Design and Technology James Walters would like to see all students innovating by year 9, to achieve this they need to be developing design skills in year 8. James also believes that a subject such as ‘design creativity’ would be a valuable addition to the program. In this model, year 7 students would have a skills focus, learning about the tools and materials required to design and then innovate. The process is one of skills development, leading to design ability with the accumulated result being innovation.
I was able to observe a grade 9 STEM design lesson. Students had explored the process of casting and the materials that enable jewellery to be formed in a sustainable fashion. Over the course of previous weeks students explored the design process using sketches, the making of a molds using hand carved cuttlefish or a CAD design and laser cut mdf option. They then selected appropriate metals and undertook the casting and finishing process. The use of pewter means that any flawed works can be recast and cuttlefish mold is bio-degradable, an example of circular loop economy and the use of sustainable materials.
Thanks to Mark Moody, James Walter, Julian Metcalf and Rebecca for hosting my visit.