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Training the Einsteins of Tomorrow: Interview with Be STEAM Founder Dóra Komporday

2018.06.12.

“An example would be if, say, the technical and computer science teachers at a school would jointly hold two 45-minute classes, where students would first plan, then build an invention.”

Sitting on the noisy terrace of Budapest’s Kino mozi, this is how Dóra Komporday introduces the Be STEAM project, which uses technology to make science more accessible to the next generation.

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Dóra Komporday, a graduate of Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design’s art and design management master’s program, has spent the better part of the last two years working on improving the transmission of interdisciplinary learning. In particular, she has worked on a variant of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) learning system, one which adds an “A” for “art.” Together with the chair of the university’s Design Institute, Ákos Lipóczi, they created a project called Be STEAM. According to Komporday,

 The goal was to provide children with activities that develop their mechanical and digital skills together with their creativity starting from a very young age, so that these sorts of activities could take place for kindergarteners as well.

Dora explained, adding “international statistics show that, in the future, there will be a huge shortage of engineers, since fewer and fewer people worldwide are studying engineering or computer science at university. For this reason, some people started designing programs designed to popularize these important fields of study. In the United States, the Obama Administration made attempts at this, but failed to achieve any significant success. For this reason, they decided to include art, industrial design, and design elements as well, in order to help [students] understand these topics from a creative perspective.”

The three- to four-hour workshops that Be STEAM organizes are generally held for groups of 20 children, although Dora, who herself was once a public-school teacher, notes that 15 would be a more ideal number. The program’s slogan is “Do it yourself,” which is intended to motivate children to work on a given problem using the tools and items they find on their tables:

We encourage the kids to take bamboo skewers and use cable-ties to tie them together at various points. With this, we force them to problem-solve. Since they work in 4-5-person groups, they come to different results, which tends to generate exciting things.

Based on her experience, Komporday believes that school programs include games and arts & crafts activities that don’t even remotely interest children today. While, like public schools, Be STEAM tries to work with inexpensive materials, they would like to spice this up a bit by making use of free 3-D software:

You can think of this as something similar to, for example, Minecraft, which has become popular among children, and in which you can freely design various forms using geometric shapes…in this situation, a child doesn’t notice that they’re counting, since they’re pushed onward by their own motivation. If a geometric shape doesn’t want to come together, the child will automatically begin redesigning it; I don’t have to give them parameters for the final shape to be precise.

At Be STEAM’s workshops, children can also make use of 3-D printers, which melt down PLA plastic in order to create layered, three-dimensional objects. For the founders of Be STEAM, it’s important that, alongside digitalization, there should be tactile learning as well: in other words, children should not become afraid of nature, while at the same time they should remain open to new things and advances. Dóra – for whom Be STEAM was also her master’s project as well – believes that many children do not learn how to drive in screws at home or how to use tools in technical classes – these, too, are important parts of Be STEAM’s workshops.

The kids are most fascinated by cutting with box-cutters, since generally parents don’t let children use them in order to avoid accidents. Another favorite is plaster molding. We believe that if a child can pick for him- or herself the materials and tools he or she will use, it will have a huge impact on creativity.

While the team, which currently runs workshops, is open to moving into public education as well, they are currently they have partnerships with a few schools. In addition, specialist teachers sometimes come in to help with individual projects, and the Be STEAM team works with them on item prototypes and pedagogical content. According to Komporday, “the Hungarian education system has a great need to increase teachers’ sensitivity to this topic, to show them what international practices are, what new tools and technologies they could use in teaching, that would in fact help them.” She added that

while we would like for STEAM methods to make their way into public education, until the central framework changes, we will have a hard time. 45-minute class periods and a lack of resources together mean that we can currently only work on developing after-school programs.

 

 

Reporting by Balázs Horváth

Translated by Tom Szigeti

Photos by Tamás Komporday


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