Transformative Learning in #STEM at #ASTEN2017

TL group 1As part of the ASTEN conference in October, 2017, we had a session devoted to (you guessed it!) Transformative Learning (TL) with a focus on STEM. This post summarises the outcomes of the workshop, giving a science flavour to our discussion so far on TL.

At the beginning of the session, participants completed a feedback form asking them to describe a TL experience, then to tease out indicators they look for when visitors are having a TL experience – similar to the work we did with teachers and staff at MoAD.

As ASTEN participants are primarily based in science communication and science learning, their take on TL addressed mostly science experiences, with some synergies with the literature review of TL and STEM.

A TL STEM experience – some examples

  • The first time I saw a Bernoulli Blower exhibit in my first visit to a science centre.
  • Attending the Milan Furniture Fair and learning about European design / manufacturing … engaging with a manufacturer to develop one of my designs / products … innovative product recognised, feelings of empowerment, change, recognition.
  • Finally working out how an Archimedes screw worked … felt very much an “aha” moment when I could see exactly how it worked, and that I could make one.
  • First visit to Exploratorium, SF. Late in the afternoon, ran out of time. Lost track of my children because I was so busy, last to leave.
  • Making a water heater in our Maker Space – the heat lamp melted the tubing, water went everywhere but helped show me why hands-on is so important when forming ideas.
  • Primary school visit to Questacon – hands-on activities, I remember quite clearly visiting. One of the few excursion memories that I have.
  • Learning about air pressure and that vacuum cleaners don’t suck; the air is pushed into a space of low pressure. Changed the way I understand physics – helped with cleaning! – but the experience gave me a mindset to stop, step back, observe and see if I could explain phenomena differently.
  • Presenting shows and workshops. Became aware of how the presentation style and language used allows for an engaging, transformative experience. Learned how important story-telling was to communicate an idea.
  • Te Papa Bug Lab. Totally changed the way I saw and valued the physical / sculptural environment to immerse people in a completely unfamiliar world. WETA workshop expertise transformed an often icky topic (insects) into a magical wonderland where the humans were smaller than the bugs. Interactivity, conversation, innovation and mood creation deepened the experience for visitors of all ages.
  • Following the Copenhagen conference on climate was really influential. At the time I was working in science and really believed that in time science would steer the conversations – seeing the interplay between science, politics and culture during that time was powerful.
  • Time with a major Architect discussing informally the practice of how it connected to all the disciplines.
  • Learning the history of computer development and realising it was aligned with war (Computer History Museum, 2015). Felt shocked, looked around to see if others were experiencing the same thing.
  • Experiencing the southern night skies at Tekapo, NZ.
  • New job – steep learning curve.
  • When I was 3-4 years old visiting Queensland Museum and the turtle diorama had an interactive component (still does!), where you touched eggs o feel different temps to understand role t has in determining sex.

Indicators of a TL experience

From the feedback forms the following indicators were mentioned:

  • Making connections – cognitive, social/personal, identity, physical
  • Link it to their lives or translate into their life experiences
  • Change in behaviours or attitudes
  • Emotive response
  • Engagement – a ‘light bulb’ moment
  • “Ow wow!” – when you hear children calling out
  • Smiling, ‘wonderment’ on face, facial emotions
  • Having fun and engaging / interacting with objects
  • Noises of struggle but continued persistence
  • Lose track of time
  • Increase in dwell time
  • Focussed, moving slowly through a gallery space
  • Excitement
  • Exclamations – “that’s cool”, “come and look at this”, “I hadn’t thought of that”, “wow”
  • Anger at information presented – views and beliefs being challenged, shock
  • Open body language
  • Taking photos
  • Conversations, sharing experiences at the time or post-visit
  • Telling someone else about the changes
  • When a child and family are working together intensely at an exhibit, kids want to show parents, adult/child interaction
  • Test new learning in real life
  • Asking questions to further understand concepts
  • Come back for more

In the group report-back session we classified the indicators into a series of categories –  cognitive, behavioural, cognitive, emotional and social – as in the images below.

Thanks for participating in the session and I think we teased out some really good ideas, with some new and different takes on the subject, complementing the outcomes from the MoAD staff workshop and Canberra/ACT-based teachers.


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