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The ORT iSTEAM Programme

The ORT Israel network of schools is currently developing and piloting a new P roject B ased L earning (PBL) curriculum based on I nnovation, S cience, T echnology, E ngineering, A rt and M athematics (hence i-STEAM).  The purpose of the ORT iSTEAM programme is to empower young students with the essential knowledge, skills and values needed for living in the 21st century. The project is a radical innovation of R&D based on robust experimental field studies. 

One of the novelties of the programme is the integration of the ARTS within STEM education, providing the tools to harmoniously engage with technology and improve the creativity and aesthetics of engineering solutions. In addition, integral to the iSTEAM programme are issues of sustainability, ethics, responsible citizenship and commitment to the community.

iSTEAM: Moving beyond the era of disciplines....

Our current era consists of a complex and rich world of diverse and highly accessible information. New tools and complex communication systems allow us to effortlessly transverse space and time. The aspects of such a plethora of knowledge, communication channel and options affects all aspects of human life. Among others, it also poses challenges and raises critical questions about the existing learning culture and the relevance of the education system for future life and careers. The new information era urges a shift from an organized disciplinary approach governed by absolute knowledge to imparting of complex, multidisciplinary and changing knowledge. 

In recent decades, the need for transition from a closed and disciplinary curriculum to a developing dynamic curriculum and flexible learning environment is increasing. Unlike the disciplinary approach, an integrated multidisciplinary approach require to develop learning processes that explore the different areas of life skills and encourage creativity and expression of a wide array of contexts. At the heart of this new approach is the belief that the epistemological knowledge of a discipline alone does not enable an individual to represent the transformations, changes and creative outcomes that occur in a meaningful learning process, and that exclusive reliance on a discipline is seen as artificial and restrictive. 

As part of a global paradigm shift in education, a new national curriculum with an emphasis on deep and meaningful learning has been introduced in Israel in 2014. The core of this programme focuses on adapting education to the 21st century with a greater focus on skills. In response to this new curriculum, ORT Israel developed the unique iSTEAM curriculum, based on multi-disciplinary learning processes. The iSTEAM initiative was created to respond to the skills today's students will need when facing future prospects. Growing up in a fast-paced, highly technological world, students need to develop a wide set of skills including the ability to think critically and creatively, work collaboratively within a team, integrate knowledge from different sources and different disciplines, and develop articulated metacognitive abilities.

The iSTEAM (Innovation, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) programme is an example of an innovative educational approach that includes the perspectives of different disciplines merged together. The programme aims to bridge the gap between knowledge acquired in school and that of the ‘real’ world. The programmes graduates poses an arsenal of skills and tools appropriate to the flexible, dynamic lifestyle of a complex, diverse and ever-changing world. 
The innovative iSTEAM pedagogy stresses 21st century skills as defined by PISA, using a wide variety of teaching techniques which provide a thorough understanding of useful performances and behaviours in the real and virtual worlds. It is also a lab for learning to deal with management and leadership opportunities and challenges. 

The iSTEAM roadmap for adopting these ideas is laid out through PBL (Project Based Learning) techniques. The use of ICT (Information and Communications Technology - or Technologies) and collaborative learning improves readiness of young people for the social skills needed in the real world and future world of career and work. In the iSTEAM programme, ICT serves as a platform for any collaborative communication. For example, over the course of the programme students use infographics to present their products, collaborative tools to engage group challenges, etc. 

Following are the guiding principles of the iSTEAM programme, as defined by its Steering Committee: 

• Obscuring the boundaries between school disciplines, while strengthening disciplinary and interdisciplinary teaching and learning. 
• Restructuring of school schedules as to accommodate the iSTEAM model of multidisciplinary, PBL and ICT components to become a sound foundation for the pedagogical and social activities in school.
• Establishing a school-wide learning process that combines meaningful project-based learning with an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship.
• Incorporating principles of alternative assessment such as project portfolios and presentations. 
• Implementing educational work processes based on ICT technologies and encouraging collaborative work processes with a variety of digital tools. 
• Deepening linguistic literacy by developing a cross-disciplinary vocabulary. The iSTEAM model serves well the principal of deepening the linguistic literacy, as well as deepening other literacies. 

The iSTEAM learning approach allows for an overview of the areas of science and engineering with different depths of knowledge in the field. This type of learning develops a broad perspective on science and engineering disciplines, on product design processes and a holistic approach. 

iSTEAM in action 

Activating this innovative programme needs a special preparation phase in school. The following aspects have to be considered: 

• Developing a school model based on deep learning of the iSTEAM disciplines.
• Setting up a new school subject which focuses on the interface between several traditional disciplines. 
• Focus on processes. It is important that an emphasis is placed not only on the end product but also on active skills such as teamwork, research and development, problem analysis and presentation of ideas to the public.
• Placing an emphasis on developing positive affective factors such as motivation, self-efficacy and emotional involvement. 
• Teacher training with an emphasis on process expertise must be as a preliminary stage for introducing the programme to schools. This means paying special attention to the major agents of change, namely the teachers. In order to understand and adopt the iSTEAM PBL method teachers need to be trained by doing. Thus teachers experience the programme first-hand (i.e. teacher as a student). Teachers thus go through the process of building their own iSTEAM product just as their students would. 

The programme will promote students to expand their intellect and skills in areas including inquiry, research, critical thinking, problem defining and solving, team work, presentation, time and resource management and financial literacy. The iSTEAMORT programme fosters innovation, the start-up culture, career education, Hi-Tech economy and social inclusion.