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Blurring the Boundaries

  • 2021
  • High School
High School STEAM Team

Between the first and second academic trimesters of the school year, the high school at THS cranks up the academic rigor with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and maths) Week. This interim week operates like the Arts interim week where the usual timetable is suspended, hence allowing students to be actively engaged in a week-long intensive course that offers a real-world and interdisciplinary look at the application of STEAM-related ideas to the local Hong Kong community and beyond. 

This year’s courses were led by our high school Math and Science teachers David Pudder, Sam Crickenberger, James Kane, Yvonne Ward, Kyle King (co-principal of the high school), and THS marine science center teachers Maxine Cutracci and Sarah Taylor.  

THS High School students earn one high school credit when they attend the entire STEAM week. Each year, our teachers put together a compelling selection of STEAM challenges for this intensive week. STEAM projects give students a chance to problem-solve in creative and innovative ways by forcing them to think outside the box, take risks, and figuring out solutions through trial and error. This year’s courses were constructed to respond to challenges to sustainable living and climate change.  

Economic and Sustainable Living Project 2.0
In this intensive course, we look into the issue of homelessness which is on the rise and made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. People who were already living with financial pressures find themselves being pushed over the brink into homelessness due to the economic disruption. In the US, 580,466 Americans experienced homelessness on any given night in 2020 according to a report released in March 2021 by the US housing department.  Between 2019 to 2020, there was a 22 per cent increase in the number of registered street sleepers in Hong Kong though the real figure is likely to be much higher, according to Impact Hong Kong, a local charity for the homeless.

During this week, students studied models of sustainable and affordable living such as Emerald Village Tiny House Community located in the state of Oregon in the US. They designed game-changing examples for communities such as Hong Kong that are trying to find compassionate solutions to their own housing crisis. Students worked in small groups of two or three and at the end of the week, presented their final housing design and build to the rest of the high school, explaining the economical and sustainable aspects of each of their designs.


Life on Mars
The Martian is an incredible tale of survival by Andy Weir that demonstrates how being innovative and mathematical can help one to overcome problems.  In this class, students read the book and then investigated the science and mathematical concepts in it.  As it turns out, many of the math and science checks out and it is plausible that humans can survive on Mars.  To further delve into the subject, students watched parts of the movie as well as a variety of NASA videos with footage from Mars rovers Perseverance, Curiosity, and the most recent addition, the Chinese rover Zhurung.  Working in small groups, students built and programmed their own rovers by using Makebot’s mBot kit.  Students further applied their knowledge of the Martian landscape by designing and building a scaled model of a geological feature on the red planet.  The culminating event required that students program their rovers to navigate the Martian obstacle course.  This included besting the Olympus Mons, the highest mountain in the solar system that stands at 27 kilometers in elevation.  


No Diggity
Work, in physics, is energy transferred to or from an object that is moved over a distance by an external force applied to the object. Hence, whenever any work is done, energy is transferred (mechanically) from one form to another. In this course, students applied this and other fundamental concepts in physics to the making of mechanical toys and devices. Students explored concepts such as the building blocks of circuits, the basics of force as well as design and creativity elements to produce a final product - a moving toy and an explanatory website to share their understanding.  In this course, students worked on their practical skills of constructing toys and wiring electrical components to provide enough energy for the toy to work. In parallel, students developed a website which serves to explain the design, building and testing processes that took place over the course of the week and documented their process of making the toys and how the main components worked together. 

A link to the students' website is here.


Subaquatic Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s marine ecosystems are under constant environmental pressures and are in steady decline. In this weeklong course, students learned about local ecosystems and the impact human activities have on them. A restoration tool that has been used for centuries to increase fish production is by placing structures under water to act as artificial reefs. These reefs recruit a plethora of organisms depending on the placement and materials used. Students in groups decided which type of ecosystem they would like to enhance and built an artificial reef. The groups took on building AR for an oyster/mangrove ecosystem at Tai Tam Tuk and a fractured coral reef at South Bay Beach. The groups used cement blocks and hand crafted ceramic to create a 3D structure and deployed the structures at the locations. The students also created monitoring plans and will go to observe the structures in the spring to quantify the impact and success of their artificial reef and determine the organisms recruited to the structure. 


Urban Jungle
Hong Kong is known as an urban jungle of towering skyscrapers. However, scattered among and throughout this urban jungle is an abundance of biodiversity rivalling that of much larger cities.  High school students enrolled in this STEAM course learned about how we measure the variety of life on Earth and then spent the rest of the week learning about and documenting the biodiversity present in Hong Kong.  We started the week with a visit to the Hong Kong University’s Biodiversity Museum led by Dr. Benoit Guénard.  During the week, students explored a number of ecosystems in Hong Kong including hillsides, freshwater streams, estuaries, rocky intertidal, tide pools, mangroves, and sandy shores to learn about and capture the natural beauty of each through sound, photography, video, and drawings.  At the end of the week students highlighted the biodiversity, and with the help of additional background research, educated their peers about the wealth of biodiversity found in their own backyard.


In today’s world, setting students up for future success means exposing them to STEAM disciplines holistically in order to develop their critical thinking skills. While our high school offers interdisciplinary courses during the term, STEAM week allows for much greater depth of enquiry and the intensity of immersion in the weeklong course format results in greater focus and creativity. During this rigorous week of learning, students had the opportunity to see and engage with STEAM concepts in not only applied, but relevant settings. An important part of the STEAM week experience is this approach where students are not just taught the subject matter but are taught how to learn, how to ask questions, how to experiment, and how to create. This allows students to have a more meaningful experience which serves to enhance their learning as a student at THS. In future school years, we hope to offer even more of an array of STEAM courses during this interim week to offer students the outlet to engage with STEAM learning outside of the typical classroom environment. 

To see more, check out these exciting videos on three of the week’s courses! 

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