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STEM+E – Real World Learning

What is the purpose of children’s education?

Is it simply to learn how to read, write and learn algebraic formulas? Or are we beyond the 19th Century notion of 3 Rs of Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic?

It has been suggested that a more modern approach to these 3 Rs are now Responsiveness, Resilience and Relationships (Ratner, 2021) which is where KneoWorld’s program of learning sits more comfortably.

Today’s learning approaches are more than just teaching the basic competencies and far more about combining those with more skill-based teaching. It is about preparing children for society and living within it, and learning through play is the avenue through which this is achieved.

Learning then becomes an experience that children can immerse themselves in. This results in them enjoying themselves, which motivates them to continue learning. KneoWorld knows that this works and taps into students’ curiosity and desire to learn by offering games and comic books that are designed and developed to align with the outcomes of the curriculum and educational competencies.

Many pedagogical theorists such as Piaget, Groos and Vygotsky based their research on learning through play, and one area where it is particularly important is STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. KneoWorld’s program has been designed to use creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking to solve real-world problems. Because it is an immersive experience, it encourages children to learn while they are having fun – “play.”

While being in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, it prepares Pre-K to Grade 6 students for the real world.

But is this enough?

If we are preparing children for the real world, then it is important to explore every aspect of it. It is not enough to teach children the facts and the figures, it is also important to understand the contexts in which this real world exists and to do this we must recognise and understand emotions.

“The integration of disciplines in STEM would not make any sense if we do not first take into account the characteristics of the contexts, if we do not first understand our children, if we do not build a loving bond of work between family, children and teachers.” Gomez, 2023[1]

Furthermore, this theory is not in isolation. While social and emotional wellbeing is an area of development that has gathered more importance in recent years, it is more than 2,200 years ago that Platón stated that the emotional disposition of children determines their ability to learn (quoted by Viloria, 2005[2]). Similarly, author of the children’s book, ‘The Little Prince’, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry stated, “It is only with the heart that one can see well: The essential is invisible to the eye.”

How students think and feel is important because it impacts their ability to absorb what is being taught. Children who feel safe and secure are more likely to achieve outcomes than those who do not. Humberto Maturana (1997, p24) believes that “love is the only emotion capable of expanding intelligence,” which KneoWorld has taken on board and embedded into their programs. We can only have respectful and meaningful learning experiences through collaborative partnerships between Educators, students and families where feelings, thoughts and emotions are expressed.

How does this work?

Deyby Rodrigo Espinosa Gómez is a researcher and pedagogical advisor of KneoWorld. He believes that listening is both the best teaching and learning method.

“Today our educational systems need to learn about listening to the different learning rhythms that inhabit a classroom, it needs to read the human beyond numbers and competencies, it needs to understand children.” (Espinosa, 2020[3])

By really listening to each individual child and their emotional needs, we can support them to be the best they can be. In turn, this also enables children to develop their critical thinking skills. Maturana, in his belief about love also deems that it is this emotion that drives our actions as human beings.

“It is said that we are rational beings, but in reality we are emotional beings, who can reflect and choose what we do in the different circumstances in which we find ourselves. And there are no other living beings that can do it in a reflexive way, and this is possible because we exist in language. That is our great reassurance: we can choose at every moment what we do.” (1997, p24[4])

 Which leads us to STEM+E.

STEM+E goes beyond the academics of STEM and looks to teaching students about critical thinking and creativity; about being sensitive in their responses to current world issues. In order to do this, they must understand what is involved in order to strengthen their emotions towards other people, animals and nature, into developing care and empathy. It is also about appreciating love, friendship, solidarity and sensitivity – being emotionally intelligent.

The role that emotions play within the education space and how that translates into the wider world is key.

When a child can feel and express their emotions in a positive learning environment, it stimulates neural pathways which makes acquiring knowledge easier and long lasting. We all remember our favourite teacher, not just because of what they told us, but because of how they engaged us and made us feel in the lesson. That is what we savour in our minds and hearts and as Educators we owe it to our students to make them feel the same way so that they enjoy the experience of learning.

KneoWorld puts STEM+E into action by applying context and by making the content relevant to the students’ lives. It is about understanding that STEM+E is the child’s lived experience whether at home, school or in the city. “STEM works best when you apply it to the real world.” (KneoWorld, 2022[5]) and includes activities such as cleaning, baking, shopping, family trips, time spent in the neighbourhood and living together.

It invites children to think critically – letting them know that it is okay to doubt what you are being told and to question it; to be curious and want to know more; and to think about what that looks like in the world and whether that is just, moral, and fair? STEM+E is also about appreciating and being respectful of every profession and that education and joy go hand in hand.

For children to develop core competencies for life, education must also allow for active and unique learning experiences.

Read more about KneoWorld’s program here.