How can we prepare our students for a future we can’t even imagine?

Miranda Patterson, Director of Science, Technology and Engineering, reflects on recent changes to the Third Form Science curriculum.

What will the technological world and working environment look like in five years’ time? For what are we preparing our pupils? How can we prepare our pupils for a future we can’t even imagine? These were the questions we asked ourselves when designing our new Science curriculum for the Third Form.

What is exciting about STEM subjects is that they lend themselves naturally to a changing world. People turn to the skills inherent in these subjects to explain phenomena that they struggle to understand. Properly taught STEM seeks not to provide pupils with these answers but to teach them what to do when the answer is not known. It is about taking new knowledge and using it in a different way.

Pupils are learning to be creative and to show originality of thought in their problem solving.

The new Third From course aims to encourage pupils to embrace change as an opportunity and to be intellectually curious about it.  The course has been designed across biology, chemistry and physics as a skills-based course delivered through one of three, pupil-chosen, contextual themes. Pupils learn the scientific method and the nature of science and how to apply it not just to designing their own experiments but also in analysing and evaluating the claims of others. In the age of ‘alternative truths’ and ‘fake news’ rumours, hoaxes and misinformation find fertile breeding ground on social media. It is imperative that we teach our pupils how to identify the accurate from the inaccurate, and to spot faulty arguments, generalisations and unfounded assertions.

At the heart of each theme are intellectually rigorous problems that pupils work towards solving. Pupils are learning to be creative and to show originality of thought in their problem solving in order to progress.  Extensive practical work in class is supported with Harkness-style teaching encouraging guided, pupil-led discussion. Above all the Third Form course is designed to allow pupils to move forward with the skills they have learnt and a core understanding of the importance of positive relationships with those around them and those beyond them.

It is important to add to creative lessons a chance for greater exploration beyond the syllabus. To that end, work in the classroom is enhanced with a comprehensive extra-curricular programme both in terms of our Enrichment programme on a Wednesday afternoon and also through external and internal competitions such as the Malim Prize.

Although much of our understanding of the future is crystal ball gazing, what we do know is that whatever the future looks like it will rapidly change throughout the pupils’ lifetimes. The education we provide them with must be based on providing skills and attributes that will allow them to be adaptable and flexible in their approach. With an estimated additional 157,000 jobs in big data by 2020 and the current shortfall in graduates with engineering skills of approximately 110,000, we do know we would be doing our pupils a disservice if we did not consider their lives beyond the limits of the years they are with us and look into the future.

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