Bramblewars- A STEAM Project for Year 6

A STEAM Project for Year 6

During week 3 of our placement,  the majority of the year 6 children were going on a residential to PGL. We were asked if we would be able to create and run a programme of activities for the 17 children remaining at school; a challenge we were delighted to accept . Following the  work towards the exhibition and the children having had a lot of art time we decide to create a STEAM project   instead of retaining a purely art based focus. The idea of a shift from STEM to STEAM has been a particular interest to me as an art specialist and digital leaders so this was a fantastic opportunity to implement  a trial project.


The development of  STEM learning is  actually about a philosophy of  how children learn and emphasises the importance of  helping students integrate knowledge across disciplines, encouraging them to think in a more connected and holistic way.  The traditional approach of teaching topics in isolation does not support the ways that children learn best and over the  years  there has been a big drive advocating the benefits of STEM learning Recently, the idea of adding the arts to STEM programs has been gaining momentum. This model is championed by Ruth Catchen (2013), an artist and educator turned STEAM pioneer. According to Ruth, the arts are a great learning tool and can serve as an avenue  for some children to access STEM. Engaging students’ strengths using art activities increases motivation and the probability of STEM success. She views art as a way of offering more diverse learning opportunities and greater access to STEM for all types of learners. Further to this, Art also provides diverse opportunities for communication and expression. Ruth believes that in our  digital world, we have a responsibility to educate the whole child to become a ‘global citizen’ in his or her community. According to Jolly (2014), the benefits of a shift to a multidisciplinary paradigm such as STEAM would be beneficial in the following ways:

  • Within Design-Art can serve a practical function. Students might apply design and decoration to products that were created during the course of a design challenge. They could use computer graphics to create logos or stylized designs to include in communications or presentations. Through industrial design, students could improve the appearance, design, and usability of a product created during a STEM project.
  • Within Performing arts, such as drama and speech. What about technical or persuasive writing? Those arts fit naturally into the “Communications” stage of the engineering design process. They would work well as part of a STEM project. (If you want students to get REALLY ambitious and creative, check out this video of students in Paraguay who made instruments out of discarded materials!)
  • Creative planning. As students brainstorm solutions for an engineering problem, encourage them to adopt a playful, inventive, artistic approach. Calling on their artistic right brain can help them to generate more creative and innovative thinking         (Jolly 2014)

She concludes  that in todays modern world we need students who are motivated and competent in bringing forth solutions to tomorrow’s problems.

When push comes to shove, it’s not STEM vs. STEAM—it’s about making every student a fully-literate 21st-century citizen.” ( Jolly 2014)

Having established the idea of running a STEAM project we  contacted Helen Caldwell ( Digital Literacy and Computing Senior Lecturer at the University of Northampton ) to get some practical advice on how to approach  the idea. Helen provided us with a range of resources and links to material and projects which she felt would benefit us  and serve as inspiration. She discussed with us some of the apps we may lie to use as well as arranging for us to borrow the university’s Green Screen.  We were able to clarify with Helen that although there should be elements of each discipline within the project that it was not a necessity to make sure they were equally weighted the most important factor was that the tasks and activities were characterised  as open ended, collaborative and provided opportunities for problem solving again  using the Challenge based learning model as we had with the art project.

Looking at some of the examples Helen had provided we were particularly taken with the  Bridge Craft STEAM week which was run at Bridgewater Primary school in 2014. This was a great example of STEAM learning across a whole school based on the popular computer game Mine craft. We liked the idea of running a theme based project and also the use of digital avatars which would talk to the children and provide an interactive experience so we decided to run a Starwars based project called Bramblewars. We spent a long time preparing resources which we hoped would be engaging and motivating to the children this included a Starwars Crawl which introduced the project. (we had a bit of a problem with uploading music so the music was played from youtube in the background)

followed by messages from talking StarWars avatars which we created using the app Morfo.

Our first challenge was for the children to build a spaceship launch tower for the Millennium Falcon, the children used spaghetti and marshmallows and worked collaboratively in small groups  to attempt to build the tallest tower. They had access iPads  during the activity so they could carry out research  to support their ideas as they progressed.image

Our second challenge was building an Ewok village. The children worked in pairs outside in the woodland area. They used natural found materials, glue, and string to construct tree top houses. They had specific requirements which needed to be included; an escape route, camouflage, a soft area to sleep, a sheltered area and a garden/outdoor area. We were so lucky with the weather on this day and the children really enjoyed the task and became absorbed in their designing and making challenge. We spent a fell day out in the woodland area completing this task and when the village was complete the children made a Pic collage  showing the features of their Ewok home. We also then invited year 2 to come and explore our Ewok village to share some of our fantastic and imaginative designs.image image image

Our third challenge was to create  a TV advert to advertise our Ewok homes. The children wrote a script using persuasive language and then filmed their advert in front of the Green screen . we then imported photographs of the houses as a background so it appeared that the children were standing outside their own Ewok house.image

Our third a final session was a free choice session where the children  were allowed to choose to create something Starwars related. We had some children create spaceships using Sketchup Pro, some creating Powerpoints about the films and others who drew starwars characters.

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The preparation for the project was time consuming but certainly worth the while as it created  a sense of excitement and engaged the children by asking them to solve real world problems.I would recommend to anybody to have a go at a STEAM project, its not as scary or intimidating as it may sound. It was so much fun and drew in many strands of the curriculum (not just STEAM subjects!).I will be looking to develop and improve the STEAM program further and hope to run a further improved project this coming year.

I would love to hear about any experiences anybody has had running either STEM or STEAM projects however big or small 🙂

Digital Art with Billingbrook Special School

The project enabled the children to explore and develop their knowledge on Horticulture by creating a painted garden on their school wall (see figure 1). Horticulture is studied at Billing Brook Special School as a hands-on approach that provides sensory purposes and works as a therapy. It also provides trips, aids social skills and results in a qualification. This is something extremely important to the school, especially next year when GCSE’s will be taken out of the curriculum and replaced with functional skills.

Throughout the topic the children were able to experiment with different techniques and mediums to assist the key component of the topic, the wall. The various mediums (paint, paper, collage materials, colouring pens/pencils and iPads) enabled the children to create and develop numerous techniques so that the project was accessible to all. Digital art was something vaguely new to the school and therefore a pleasure to teach.

To begin our project, we began by discussing our initial ideas to suit the chosen theme. It was highlighted by the school that they did not want the painting to be in a cartoon style. Taking this into consideration, along with the theme, we felt that the picture embedded many different flowers in size and colour, this therefore emphasizing diversity (a key component to the school).

The main aspect to the project was ‘the wall’. Most of the children had an exploration lesson before hand so that it could remain focused, either one-to-one or for bigger classes a few children per student/TA. For those children who joined the project in the last week (due to the requested extension), an exploration was provided before they painted on the wall however this was very brief. Most of the children were able to visualise the expectations from looking at the wall and discussing it (what they think the flowers have been made with and how).

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Digital Art on Placement

Following the work I have been doing on digital art at university ,I was keen to bring my experience in to the classroom on placement so when my mentor asked me to organise making Mother’s Day cards I had the perfect opportunity  to do just this. Working with year 1 I decided to use just one app to introduce the children to digital image manipulation and I felt RollWorld  would be  a good choice as it is easy to use and most importantly , it creates fantastic images;I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t love using it!   The children created some art work which focused on shape and colour initially using felt tip pens, we the photographed their work and they manipulated it in RollWorld. The children loved the different effects they were able to achieve and were really proud of their very professional looking Mother’s Day cards which were produced. Most importantly , the mums  all loved their unique and unusual cards  and  we even managed to create a fantastic digital art work display to brighten up the class room.Many of the children enjoyed using the app so much that they went home and downloaded it on their own tablets so they could continue to experiment and create their own body of digital art.image image

Documenting evidence from placement

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If you have read any of my previous posts you will probably have a picked up that I am a big fan of using the app Pic Collage! I find using pic collage is an effective way to visually document evidence to enhance my RPE. Here is a Pic collage I created which documents some of the creative methods I used to engage the children in literacy. My collage shows a screen shot from the iMovie I created, a photograph of the ‘letter’ which the class received from Penny the Explorer and  photographic evidence of some of the shared writing  we produced as a class before the children  wrote their own factfiles. One of the reasons that I  have found this to be such an effective method to document evidence is  that is quick, efficient and an accessible and  effective visual reference for  assessors when they look at my  RPE.  This collage along with my lesson plans and work produced by the children created a strong pack of evidence to go into my RPE and I had very positive feedback from my PAT who felt that the addition of a visual to complement and enhance the usual evidence they would expect to find.
By Gemma Wade

Digital Collages

Several of our Digital Leaders have contributed digital collages about themselves. We will use these to introduce ourselves to our European partners. Here is a selection:

An interactive Thinglink image created by Suzanne Turvey:

A photovisi montage created by Jessica Lambert:

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A digital collage by Katie Canham:

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An interactive Thinglink image from Gemma Wade: