Posted By : STEAM TEAM - May 2021

Building Confidence with STEAM Labs: An interview with Matt Kelly from West Heath School

In 2020 CreativeHUT worked with West Heath School to build them their very own bespoke STEAM Learning Space. West Heath School is an independent school in Sevenoaks, Kent established in 1865. The school, founded in its current form as a charitable trust on 14 September 1998 as the Beth Marie Centre, and now caters for children for whom mainstream schooling has become insufficient. The students there have a diversity of special needs and all aspects of mental illness, ranging from; behavioural problems, PTSD, self harm and many more. The school's motto is 'Rebuilding Lives Through Education'. It was the very same institute the late Princess Diana attended before it was refurbished and resold.

West Heath wanted the lab to provide their students with new experiences and opportunities, to help engage them in the development of STEAM Skills and 21st Century Learning Skills, and to ultimately help meet the goal of 'rebuilding lives through education'. The school had previously built a space for table-top gaming, which was so successful with their students, they had an idea to research into LEGO® Education. They discovered the resources were exactly what they had in mind, and the space massively fit into what they aimed to achieve. CreativeHUT conducted a full consultation process, with the West Heath team, to understand their requirements and create a bespoke proposal that would include the most suitable hands-on resources, furniture, staff support and wall graphics to help bring the STEAM Lab to life. We took care of all aspects including delivery, installation and teacher training.

Many students in attendance struggled to maintain focus when faced with mainstream learning equipment and the staff at West Heath would describe students’ attitude to learning as "strained" and "difficult". We kitted the space out with resources like our LEGO® Education SPIKE™ PRIME sets which are designed for children to practice subjects such as: coding, programming and problem solving; all the while they are building LEGO®.

"One of the young learners, was terrible for attendance, he never missed a session when doing the workshops".

- Teacher

With the help of these kits, the children were able to build rapport with their teachers as they were able to keep their attention engaged in their new space. They would talk freely, with confidence, and enjoy school experiences. Students would even work together and build on their communication skills with one constructing, and the other starting to code. Educators described the lab to have a “massively positive impact” on the students, and has allowed them to gain important skills they can use throughout their lives. The rooms were incorporated with bright, bold colours to which an educator expressed as: 

“Perfect for autistic children, and others with neurological and developmental disorders".

View the transcript for our interview with Matthew Kelly - Associate Teacher (LEGO Education) from West Heath School below:

What type of school is west heath?

West heath is a social, emotional and mental health school, so it’s primarily a behavioural setting as a lot of the students that come here have been unable to cope in mainstream settings. There’s also the mental health side where students are unable to be in a mainstream school due to anxiety, depression and a variety of diagnosis. They end up coming to us because we can allow them to thrive and befit through smaller class sizes and one-to-one support for students that need it.

What inspired you to build a STEAM lab at West Heath?

It started out with some of our students taking an interest in table-top gaming and us building a space for that. It was so successful our vice principal asked me to look into LEGO Education and when we looked into it we felt that it massively fit into what we are trying to achieve as it incorporates play with learning.

So, the students get to play with LEGO robotics and learn how different mechanics work, while simultaneously they don’t realise how much learning is going on in the background.

Can you tell us how the STEAM lab is used in a normal week?

The program for the STEAM lab is absolutely packed, at the moment we have two lessons per class from year 6 to year 9 and on top of that we have the option students in year 10 and 11 that do the more model making side. In each of those lessons students learn about simple powered machines, WeDo 2.0, SPIKE Prime and Education Mindstorms EV3. On top of all of that we focus on areas like stop frame animation and other areas that use LEGO therapy to build in communication and collaboration.

What was it like working with CreativeHUT?

Fantastic, from the word go. Communication has been absolutely spot on, from Neil traveling down here to meet us and showcase everything CreativeHUT can offer us to the design of the room and involving us every step of the way.

And taking all our ideas into account, we stamped our feet and said we wanted a horseshoe table and Neil did turn around and said “Yeah, I will sort that”.

Involving us asking us what we thought of all the designs of the room and when we recommended changes it was all taken care of.

What impact do you think the STEAM Lab will have in the future?

I would love to incorporate the idea of therapy with education, so there would be two members of staff, one of us is a teacher one is a trained therapist and from that angle we can really marry the two. People don’t realise how therapeutic sitting there building and working on cooperation through LEGO really can be while the learning is underpinning that.

On top of that we would like to develop our outreach program so we can go out to schools that don’t necessarily have the budget for this scale of establishment. We can provide them with the materials, teach them about robotics and teach them about programming.

"The CreativeHUT team were super supportive, easy to contact and always there".

- Teacher

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