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Q&A: How This Innovation Team Encourages Girls to Move Full STEAM Ahead

Photo credit: iStock/Halfpoint

Photo credit: iStock/Halfpoint

The new norm in education in the last decade has been the push for pre-college classes geared towards STEAM-related fields – science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts.

The Innovation Team (also known as the iTeam) at The Agnes Irwin School, an all-girls, K –12 school in Rosemont, has been championing this movement for some time. The iTeam bridges the gap between students and staff to teach basic STEAM skills by using resources like their STEAM Studio complete with 3D printer and green screen or the iWonder Lab, outfitted with media arts programs and editing software. We asked the school’s iTeam leaders— Maggie Powers, Julie Diana and Kimberly Walker—to share with us their thoughts on the importance of STEAM programs for girls and young women and how Agnes Irwin continues to innovate education.

What is the purpose of the iTeam?

Maggie Powers, Director of STEAM Innovation: The iTeam was created to support faculty members and students through coaching, co-teaching and collaboration and to create and sustain an environment of curiosity, innovation, and joy in learning throughout our community. We serve as catalysts, partnering with individuals and teams of teachers to bring innovative ideas about teaching and learning to life in the classroom.

Julie Diana, Director of Libraries and Humanities Innovation: Though our titles would suggest that we are responsible for supporting innovation in different departments, it works in a more collaborative way. For most projects, two or even all three of us meet together with a teacher or a grade team throughout all stages of planning and preparation.

What are the advantages of pursuing a STEAM-related career?

Kimberly Walker, Lower School Director of Technology Integration and Innovation: The more individuals we have tackling the challenges of our day and making discoveries to improve our way of life, the better for all of us. In that regard, there is a global advantage. From a more localized, personal perspective, there is great satisfaction and empowerment that comes from designing, creating, and exploring in ways that involve STEAM.

Powers: I think delving into STEAM learning sets students up for a variety of different advantages, such as learning skillsets that have diverse applications. [It can] lead to the discovery of some dynamic, unexpected solutions to the problems we are facing now and will face in the future.

Why is it important for women specifically to receive an early STEAM education?

Powers: STEAM education for all students, particularly young girls, is critical from an early age. Learning how to engage in the design process, to empathize with others and seek meaningful feedback, understanding how to prototype and iterate when things go wrong are powerful experiences students can use for the rest of their lives.

Diana: It’s important to have some exposure to STEAM fields early on, before you really start to head down a path where it can seem like certain doors are already closed to you by the time you are 20. Some students who have a real facility with learning languages are also, not surprisingly, good at computer science. But if they don’t have exposure to coding, they may think of CS as something that is not for them and they don’t gravitate to the math and science fields. We’re really missing out on those perspectives if we don’t find a way to capture the attention of those students early on.

Walker: Some of our most useful consumer products were created or inspired by children – earmuffs, trampolines, popsicles. Why not introduce girls to STEAM concepts early on so that they can begin to develop the habits and thought processes that support success?

The STEAM Studio at The Agnes Irwin School

What are your hopes or long-term goals for the students you work with?

Diana: That they wonder about things, and that the wondering leads them to investigate, and to really ponder, and to ask other people what they think and seek different opinions.

Walker: Ultimately, I would like to see our students be change-makers and thought-leaders, no matter how small or large the scope of their influence.  If I can empower students to believe that creative change and innovative thinking in our world starts with their own attempts to create, collaborate, problem-solve, and lead, my goals for them will be accomplished. 

How well do the three of you work together? 

Walker: Joining a team that included Maggie and Julie was the ultimate icing on the cake. The two of them have deepened my desire to pursue my own interests in STEAM as well as explore ways that we might further amplify STEAM experiences in our school community and beyond. Independently, we are each capable, successful innovators — though limited by far greater obstacles when working alone.  Our collaborative efforts are meaningful, impactful, gratifying, and overall more successful than the work that any of us would be able to accomplish in isolation.

Powers: It’s almost impossible to innovate alone. To truly offer teachers and students the support needed and also sustain momentum and my own energy, a team effort was really required. The dynamic of our team constantly fills me with energy, and together, I feel like we’re making an immediate, tangible impact in the community to foster and support innovation.

Diana: We created this team using a shared leadership approach to be able to draw on the strengths we all have due to our different backgrounds, ideas, perspectives and ways of thinking. Bringing three perspectives together can enrich and build in unexpected and divergent ways. I am learning so much every day from my colleagues, and I think it is a great way to model for our students that you can work collaboratively and be so much more effective than you can on your own.

For more information about the STEAM programs offered at The Agnes Irwin School, visit their website.