Creative learning is here and we need to embrace it now!



In April 2018 I was invited to join The Festival of Curiosity at one of their project-partner meetings Steam4U in Barcelona and attend a conference on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and maths). It was hosted by CosmoCaixa of the Caixa Foundation, a bank founded in the early 20th century. Part of its legacy is to end social exclusion (Irish banks, listen-up). They provide a range of social assistance, cultural and civic services to improve people’s quality of life. CosmoCaixa is one example of this – a science centre with a live rain forest nestled in the basement, surrounded by interactive scientific displays, and a lot of space for people to gather to catch a view of the city itself.



STEAM4U Project

The rationale of Steam4U is to promote equity in STEAM education and enhance self-efficacy for students aged 10-14 years (perception of their own capabilities) in these fields, and particularly targeting those students in disadvantaged situations in STEAM. A toolkit is due later this year to assist students and teachers measure self-efficacy in STEAM.

STEAMconf 2018 Barcelona, 4th International Education Conference

IMG_0958 (1)

Transformation of skills needed in creative learning/making, presented by Karien Vermeulen, Head of Education Programme, Waag, NL

This is the fourth conference in Barcelona – the main theme being STEAM and how to minimise gender imbalances and promote equal opportunities. Highlights for me included two workshops;

How to design and programme an intelligent robot to play games with you facilitated by Stefania Druga, Personal Robots research group, MIT Media Lab, Boston, (USA)


Contemporary art intersections: geometry, optical illusion and 3D space with Nettrice Gaskins, digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM fields, Boston (USA).

As a professional museum educator, I realise if I was asked c. 5 years ago to attend either of these workshops, I would have balked at the idea. Why? Science, engineering, technology and maths were never my strong points in school. My formal educators encouraged me to focus on ‘female-friendly’ subjects instead. This approach still exists today in our education systems world-wide and yet with globalisation, the world is changing very rapidly. STEAM through education can equip students with these much-needed skills of

  • critical skills
  • learn by doing
  • creative collaborations
  • problem-solve in creative ways
  • fail in the process in order to try again without feeling like a failure (based on start-up ethos)

These values and skills are reflected in the Creative Museum/Making Museum project of which I am a coordinator. These same skills are vital for museum practitioners in the design and delivery of public engagement programmes. I have blogged about this in previous posts on this site.

Stefania Druga looked at how AI (artificial intelligence) is to the fore of children’s lives and education. We need to understand how children interact and learn from it. During the workshop we spent the hour working with existing programmes available on the platform.¬†Check out these free online resources!

Nettrice Gaskins looked at contemporary art practices as in this You Tube OK Go – This Too Shall Pass, Rube Goldberg Machine. This group of artists use recycled and found objects to create something new. Nettrice encouraged us to break in to groups of maths, science, technology, engineering and arts educators, come up with a problem and use the found materials to find a solution. We had a lot of fun in throughout the process.




Other highlights of the conference include talks by:

Marc Sibila, professor, musician and maker on Instroniks education programme, Navas, Barcelona who introduced Ryan Jenkins, Tinkering and ‘Unplanned Learning’ in the classroom, co-founder of Wonderful Idea Co, San Francisco

Stefania Druga, Kids, AI devices and Intelligent Toys, MIT Media Lab, Boston

Karien Vermeulen, Maker Access for All, Head of Programme Education, Waag for Creative Learning, Amsterdam

Nettrice Gaskins, Vernacular STEAM and its Role in Education, digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM fields, Boston

Lasse Leponiemi, How to Implement K12 education practices, discover and implement with HundrED, Head of Operations and Partner at HundrED, Helsinki

Take-aways from these talks:

  • Education needs to reform – schools are changing but the world is changing faster and faster and there is a gap
  • We need smart citizens and smart cities and kids need to learn innovative skills
  • The word innovation has an image-problem for educators and we need to overcome resistance to this
  • STEAM is essential for young people and educators to develop 21st century skills
  • Education innovators and implementors need to be empowered and encouraged
  • Visionary leadership is needed
  • Revolution in innovation happens bottom-up
  • Tinkering provides an opportunity for open-ended exploration, unplanned learning, without and end goal and provides the chance for people to collaborate and create their own goals
  • Re-use spaces to provide opportunities to tinker
  • Robots do not always need to look like traditional robots, i.e. the creative process can result in multiple versions of an idea and this is okay
  • Use cardboard as a simple material – it does not always have to cost a lot to make stuff, i.e. affordable technologies
  • Why make stuff? It helps us understand the world when we make, problem solve and learn new skills
  • Maker and tinker movement allows freedom to learn

Benjamin Franklin Makerspace School, Barcelona

I happened to bump in to a local Irish maker I have worked with before; Thom Conaty taught me how to solder breadboards in 2015 and I made my first amplifier/synthesiser in his studio. Thom is a well-known maker in Irish circles and is currently maker-in-residence in a school in Barcelona. He is developing a makerspace for students to learn STEAM. You can read further and find out about this project maker spaces.

Which brings me to this conclusion – in order to develop 21st century skills, encourage creativity through STEAM and innovation, we need the space for these skills to flourish. And schools are the best place to provide incubation for this to grow – maker spaces in schools may be the best way to go.


Special thanks to the Festival of Curiosity for providing me the opportunity to participate and attend the conference and workshops.