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Learning comes to life at BHS

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Sizing up the situation: Students survey the beach to measure the amount of plastic

Middle school students this summer went snorkelling, flew drones, surveyed beaches and created beach art in the name of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

These subjects were brought to life around the theme of “Oceans” by the 180 students who took part in the inaugural Steam Week put on by the Bermuda High School for Girls (BHS).

Deputy head Catherine Hollingsworth said the initiative was designed to connect students to the practical application of the subjects, as well as their own environment as residents of an island.

“Students in the future need to combine their knowledge and skills from each of these areas in order to be successful in their future careers,” said Ms Hollingsworth, who is also the Head of Secondary. “There has been a lot of research published to show that the jobs our students will be entering into will demand technological skills.

“These include critical thinking, resourcefulness, reflection and perseverance in addition to specific technological expertise.”

According to Ms Hollingsworth, many schools around the world are working to raise awareness and expertise in these skills, which have already been incorporated into BHS’s Guiding Statements.

Earlier this year, Rolfe Commissiong, the Shadow Minister of Human Affairs, urged the Bermuda Government to reform the education system with a focus on science, technology, education and mathematics (Stem) learning. The Progressive Labour Party politician, who has long been a proponent of Stem education, believes educating students in these subjects will help Bermuda remain competitive in a world driven and dominated by information technology.

According to Mike Charles, the general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, a focus on Stem subjects would also help bring the Island’s education system into the 21st century and boost job prospects for students.

Ms Hollingsworth said BHS is actively integrating Steam subjects into its curriculum and is now looking to create more opportunities for students to study them in a holistic way.

The school is planning another Steam Week for 2016, and is looking to collapse its timetable for middle school students for a few days to focus on technology, specifically robotics.

“We are working with MIT in Boston to facilitate visiting lecturers who are focusing on the development of robotic limbs,” Ms Hollingsworth said.

“The aim is to have workshops and talks which will focus on the theoretical and practical nature of robotics.”

BHS also offers coding and robotics clubs and students will be able to take part in the Mid Atlantic Robotics In Education Remote Operated Vehicle competition later this year.

The students will furthermore be participating in the Institute of Bermuda Architects’ interschool cardboard boat regatta, where they will work in groups to design, build and race boats.

“When students are engaged in interdisciplinary learning, their learning will be deeper and more meaningful,” Ms Hollingsworth said.

“We try to show students how these subjects connect to their goals, interests, and concerns; real-world connections.

“This way they will be more likely to value it, and thus more motivated to invest time and effort.

“In addition, hands-on activities give students a sense of accomplishment and ownership when the task is completed.”

The Year 7, 8 and 9 students who took part in the first Steam Week were divided into four categories: ocean health, the lionfish epidemic, beach art and beach development.

The subjects all offered practical experience, with students going snorkelling, surveying beaches and creating beach art, learning to fly drones and dissecting and cooking lionfish.

This was complemented by lectures and speeches from more than a dozen community players, including scientists, island activists and local entrepreneurs.

Ms Hollingsworth said the students loved the inspirational stories they heard, “such as those by world-class free-diver, motivational speaker and passionate ocean advocate Hanli Prinsloo, who held an audience of 180 middle schoolers in rapt attention for an hour”.

Highly informative: Students fly small drones over the BHS field
Food for thought: PhD student Corey Eddy shows students the different species of crab found inside the stomach of a lionfish