Getting students interested in STEAM at Islington Council Primary

Islington Council strives to prepare children to take their place in a technological world that is constantly evolving. This has led to the Council’s focus on computing and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning, giving children the opportunity to build skills for a fast-changing world and create a generation of agile thinkers. 

For Islington Council Schools, teaching computational thinking and Project Based Learning (PBL) skills is key.

“We make best use of all the resources at our disposal. We use a wide range of free resources, including, and which support creativity, problem solving and digital skills. We also have partnerships with a wide range of organisations such as Microsoft, BT and Google. Our challenge is to give Islington children real life experience, to allow them to learn by doing, and make the connections that bring real purpose to learning.”

– Katy Potts, champion for Computing and Online safety for Islington council

Practical solutions for learning

Katy emphasises the value of educational approaches such as PBL which give children the chance to solve real problems and produce results that have tangible value. ‘Predictions about the skills needed for the workforce of the future increasingly identify problem solving ability as a foundational skill,’ Katy emphasises.

“We aim to bring purpose to learning, so that children understand the ‘why’ behind the theory, bringing traditional fact-based education to life and giving it relevance. Computational thinking is a fundamental skill that teaches children to work through and explore problems logically and algorithmically. Learning should be hands-on, concrete and applied to real life. To achieve that we need live connections with the world of work, which we get from STEM Ambassadors who give their time and energy freely to help demonstrate how Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) abilities offer practical value to industry.”

“People generally need a purpose if they are to finish things. They need an audience, and feedback – an opportunity to both give and share.”

To give this to children, Islington’s Computing Service presented an annual Computing Celebration at the Emirates Stadium. The 6th event in 2018 saw over 500 children from 45 primary schools showcasing their digital projects. More than 25 tech industry leaders including Google, Microsoft and the Institute of Imagination also attended the event, exhibiting the latest developments in education technology.

Agility in the classroom

For many children, it’s difficult to focus in a traditional “chalk and talk” classroom environment. Their brains are used to heavy stimulus from multiple electronic devices and exposure to rich media material that engages multiple areas of the brain. Research has shown that simply handing over knowledge and leaving it to the child to internalise this, to paraphrase in exams, just doesn’t work. What the workforce of the future will need are skills such as being able to collaborate effectively, inspire and motivate oneself and others, and retain a calm head when overwhelmed by change. Educating for the future requires new and appropriate tools, and agile techniques are an important part of that.

SEE uses Scrum and hackathons to help children work as a team, learn to focus on one thing at a time, to complete a task before starting another, and evaluate their work through a retrospective approach. This review phase is critical for moving the subconscious learning that comes from gamification and experience-based approaches, to the conscious mind. The retrospective makes the learning sustainable. 

Real results

Demi Cornell is a STEM Ambassador Coordinator for North London. ‘This is a great way of learning,’ says Demi. ‘Children learn to take their place in a team, and they get involved with some really cool things. They develop robots, drones and game simulations – one group even designed a smart fridge.’

Applying the SEE model to education leads to a process of learning that is critically student-led, and fosters the collaboration and communication skills that will set children up to thrive in the workplace. They learn to understand challenges and problem solve through exploration and experimentation.

Praising the work of SEE, Katy Potts stresses:

“Children have to learn to tinker. When SEE gives them the chance to tackle Project Based Learning, they have to accept mistakes. It won’t be right the first time and they learn the resilience to continue; to tinker until they have something that works.”

This is how children can learn the elements of agile working – breaking tasks into increments and being prepared to iterate to improve, collaboratively, responsively and adaptively.


  • Educating to build skills alongside knowledge
  • Giving space and opportunity for learning by doing
  • Opening young minds to real life challenges
  • Closing the gap between educators and industry
  • Teaching skills for the workplaces of the future


  • Use of agile principles and practices in education
  • Hackathons, Scrum and student-led learning opportunities
  • Tinkering and experimentation encouraged
  • Challenges, projects and goals given to students
  • Annual Computing Celebration at the Emirates Stadium
  • Education for a changing workplace
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