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Transforming STEM to STEAM

A fundamental human right, quality education is one of the most important pillars of a society. Yet, for many of us growing up, education had just become a means to an end, the end being getting employment and a good salary. Many times, this way of education came at the cost of losing our innate curiosity and creativity; losing our intellectual empowerment and natural ability, and eventually losing the joy of learning too.

In Auroville, education reform has been one of the most important areas for us as a community as we work to create a better, more humane world. And at Yuvabe, many of our team members contribute to this work by imparting quality, equitable education in the Auroville and bio-region schools. Our team volunteers in five different schools in the community, and have taught more than 200 students, using alternative tools and techniques that facilitate and rekindle a child’s natural learning process.

Students of Deepanam School Auroville working on Brain teasers

Students of Deepanam school working on a breadboard

Anupama, one of the core mentors at Yuvabe, has been leading a STEM program for the students at Auroville’s Deepanam School. As a school deeply rooted in integral education, they wanted a curriculum that introduces the hard sciences in a creative way for students of grades three to eight. 

Taking free progress education to heart, Deepanam students choose what they want to learn. So it was imperative that our way of teaching, or more accurately, facilitating STEM lessons was done in a way that the kids would choose to learn it. The challenge fit in right with Anupama, who had been homeschooling her kids in the US for years. As someone who loves to learn, especially learning about how to learn, Anupama who is a software engineer by profession, had also gotten herself Montessori certified, as she delved more and more into the self-learning, homeschooling and unschooling arena.

Since the last one year, she along with a few more Yuvabe members have been driving these classes in Auroville schools; an approach they call not STEM but STEM with Arts: STEAM! Each class is essentially a creative project. Depending on the grade, this could be anything from making rubber band propelled cars, roller coasters, advertising videos, or coding games using Python.

Yuvabe's Karthik facilitating a junior class at Deepanam, making rubber band propelled straw cars.

While worksheets and exam questionnaires have definite right and wrong answers, Yuvabe teachers teach through non graded projects, where the students learn by doing, not just listening.  With the lack of a hierarchical ranking system, and the fear of failure removed, the kids work with interest to create something good that they’d be happy and proud to present at the end. 

Designed like fun hands-on exercises, our project based learning approach aims to instil a problem-solving and critical thinking attitude in the kids. With open-ended projects, they become active participants in their own learning. Kids have to become creative and resourceful, using whatever tools and technology they have at their hands. It also pushes them to figure out how to find solutions when they are stuck. Dismantling the misconception that problem solving is a grown up skill, the learning by design approach develops higher-order thinking in the early developmental phase of children.

Ideas around ethics and sustainability, when the project calls for it, are also discussed, which is something that has largely been missing from regular classroom teaching. Overall, the learner recognizes the interconnectedness of all things.

Also read about Deepanam’s STEAM Fest, organised at the end of the year, where all the students presented the creative projects to the entire community.


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