All Aboard the STEAM Engine at Tenby Schools Penang

By Samantha Khoo

July 2024 FEATURE
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A NEW ANNEXE in a school is a clear indication of student population growth. It might also mean that the educational establishment wishes to introduce enhanced facilities and upgrade learning spaces to enrich their students’ educational experience. The economist will conclude that the school is investing and preparing for the upcoming generation.

For Tenby Schools Penang, the last two years have been abuzz with anticipation. It took a leap to adopt STEAM, for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics—a curriculum that offers a holistic approach to learning that develops the whole child.

The STEM curriculum (without “art”) developed in the 1990s had generations of students deeply immersed in learning logical and technical skills. Now, to stay competitive in a post-pandemic, AI-centric world, STEAM promises to be the answer.

Tenby has been gradually injecting the STEAM approach into its curriculum over the last two years to lead the way as a STEAM Specialist School. All this work has culminated in the opening of their STEAM Engine—a 75,000ft² landmark in its Penang campus, which proves apt in its alignment with all the four strategic initiative themes in the Penang2030 vision focusing on improving liveability, upgrading the economy, encouraging civic participation and investing in the built environment to strengthen connectivity and digital infrastructure.

“Our STEAM learning approach focuses on giving students the skills they need to cope with an ever-evolving world. These skills will enable them to become future leaders in the Penang community, envisaged for the future through the Penang2030 vision,” says Jeanne Denyer, campus principal of Tenby Schools Penang.

Penang Monthly was invited to preview the STEAM Engine on 9 May 2024, and though not all the rooms in the building were fully equipped at that time, we could already hear the excited chitter-chatter and swift footsteps of the students and teachers as they weaved their way through the building. We were particularly impressed by the advanced facilities made available for the students, such as a Makerspace, Robotics and Coding Lab, Design and Technology Room, Food Technology Kitchen, Digital Media Suite and a black box theatre. In fact, the school’s teachers and students were already making full use of the available equipment during our visit.

Building a Personal Portfolio of Skills

The STEAM Engine at Tenby is a state-of-the-art facility that has adopted a revolutionary approach to teaching and learning. The three-storey building consists of unique learning spaces, each to fulfil one of the five STEAM elements. The Robotics and Coding Lab allows students to immerse themselves in mathematics and engineering, while the black box theatre is used for the performing arts, where the application of design thinking and science concepts were used to bring a stage performance to life. The Food Technology Kitchen is where science, technology and art meet in the creation of a new recipe. When asked, 16-year-old Ravishanker replies, “In the new STEAM Engine, I’m most excited to learn about programming emotions and intelligence into robots in the new Robotics and Coding Lab.”

The idea is simple: if we want innovators for tomorrow, we need to hone the arts and sciences together in students today.

STEAM emphasises the application of knowledge in real-world situations. During our tour, Year Five and Year Six students were using engineering design processes to build a structure to withstand earthquake. Not only did they code using Micro:bit to create earthquake simulations to test their prototype, they were able to connect this to the UN SDG11 as part of their IPC lesson. Meanwhile, in the science lab, the junior forensics department had their heads down trying to investigate a murder mystery using readily available chemicals. Towards the end of the tour, our noses were drawn to the fragrance of food. Little did we know, a class of students were whipping up lamb burgers, meat tacos and pasta during their culinary class for us visitors.

By having these advanced and varied facilities available, “students can discover their passions and build a personal portfolio of skills in an atmosphere where confidence grows,” Denyer adds. The STEAM approach allows the learning outcomes of the curriculum to be met by showing its real-life relevance, allowing the lessons to adapt to new technologies and current real-world challenges.

The result? An atmosphere where innovation and curiosity drive learning. Students develop critical thinking skills by evaluating information, considering multiple perspectives and making evidence-based decisions.

STEAM for All

Partnerships are a crucial element in STEAM education. As part of a global network of schools under the International Schools Partnership (ISP), Tenby ensures that the benefits of STEAM extend to all students, providing meaningful opportunities for engagement and collaboration.

It is also about ensuring that learners are career-ready when they complete their secondary and tertiary education. Partnerships with institutions like TechDome, VEX Robotics and various universities offer meaningful opportunities for Tenby’s students to extend their learning. “The activities provided by our partners support the progression of our students, helping them understand how their learning will benefit them when they enter university or start a job,” explains Sathisha Goonasakaran, the STEAM Coordinator at Tenby.

The STEAM Engine extends beyond being an educational facility just for Tenby students. “It is meant not only for our students, but also for the wider community of Penang,” Denyer says. “Through our partnerships with industry, non-governmental organisations and the government, we are hoping to develop STEAM programmes particularly for marginalised communities who don’t have access to STEAM learning opportunities, so that we can help them develop the skills they need to adapt to a changing world,” she adds.

“The main intention behind the STEAM Engine is to ensure students break free from rote learning and engage in purposeful learning that provides them with future pathways,” echoes Sathisha.

May this milestone be a step in raising confident and resilient leaders, not only at Tenby, but all over Penang as well.

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Samantha Khoo

A personal blogger since her teenage years, Samantha Khoo has always enjoyed stringing words together. Her dream is to live off-grid in a cottage with all the coffee, ink and paper she can have.