DS 95: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2019), University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 12th -13th September 2019

Year: 2019
Editor: Bohemia, Erik; Kovacevic, Ahmed; Buck, Lyndon; Brisco, Ross; Evans, Dorothy; Grierson, Hilary; Ion, William; Whitfield, Robert Ian
Author: Brosens, Lore; Emmanouil, Marina
Series: E&PDE
Institution: Department of Industrial Systems Engineering and Product Design, Ghent University
Section: Changing Innovation Landscapes 4
DOI number:
ISBN: 978-1-912254-05-7


“Education with inert ideas is not only useless: it is, above all things, harmful”. With these words Lesgold (2001) framed the state of education in the western world at the turn of the century. In a way, this sharp statement called for a change in pedagogical practice towards a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach. Moreover, it coincided with the shift towards involving more STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) cross-curricular courses in secondary education. Even though, the benefits of a STEM-inspired education are acknowledged in secondary-level schooling, STEM-based topics are rarely touched upon in primary schooling, in which the urgency for innovation and creative thinking is as relevant as in secondary education. The current absence of exposure to hands-on experiences for students in primary education is argued to lead to incompetency in manipulative skills later on (Fadzil & Saat, 2014). In general, children in primary schools learn to read, learn about history and maths, but rarely practice science or encounter science-related subjects in a fun and creative way, and for developing sensitivity and consciousness towards sustainability at an early age.

Research on the integration of cross-curricular courses that are STEM-based, and on how to create educational guidelines and ‘learning-by-doing’ that involve the student in the creative process of making, is indeed in abundance for secondary education. However, these fields of study are rarely put together into a lesson plan with clear guidelines that would allow primary school students to offer their students an early experience of state-of-the-art technological research on scientific subjects. An explanation given for the absence of STEM-based instruction in primary schools is the lack of resources, but also the low confidence of teachers to lead a hands-on class involving science-related topics. The paper reflects on a design workshop that took place in a primary school in Belgium, in which a biodegradable, flexible-to-use material served as a means to introduce pupils to biology through self-made (‘Grow-It-Yourself’) learning tools. With the help of their teachers and without neglecting their sense of creativity, students were able to grow their own 3D structures (e.g., geometric shapes) out of this natural material through moulding. The outcome was a biodegradable playground that can be decomposed naturally afterwards. Also, students could develop discipline skills by following instructions and were introduced to the basics of Computer Aided Design software.

This paper discusses the opportunities that arise when incorporating this natural and flexible material of mycelium in primary-level schooling with a STEM-based curriculum orientation. This research investigates how mycelium as a material innovation can be used as a medium to create an educational innovation in primary education in Belgium, and what guidelines are needed to support teachers in the making of hands-on activities. This workshop was based on a project developed by the first author of this paper during her third-year level engineering design education at Ghent University in 2017.

Keywords: learning by doing/design, STE(A)M-education, primary education, creativity, workshop guidelines, sustainability, mycelium


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