Everyone’s talking about STEAM education these days. From teachers to education researchers to school principals – ‘STEAM’ has gained ground as a currency of modern school teaching. But how do students actually experience this educational philosophy? Today we talk to Evan Weiss about his experience of the Hydrogen Grand Prix PRO (H2GP PRO) program. The program is a STEAM-based educational program for high school students where they design, construct and race hydrogen-powered RC cars, learning vital renewable energy skills along the way.
So, Evan, how did your experience of the H2GP PRO program differ from what you usually learn in a STEM or science class?
‘In high school, your teacher often gives you step-by-step instruction about what you have to do, but the nice thing about the H2GP program is that the teachers aren’t supposed to be involved all that much, especially when it comes to race days. So, it becomes primarily student-led. It’s the student’s responsibility to learn everything they need to know about the car, they have to learn how to properly work in a team, to learn how to respect each other, and acknowledge “I know what I know, they know what they know, and we have to learn to put it together”’.
So different students bring different skills to the program?
‘From the outside, it looks a lot like a heavy engineering-based program. You build and drive an RC car. Cool, right? Looking at it from the outside, you may only see mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and people like that. But actually, when you really get into the program, you quickly find out that there’s something in there for everyone. Our sister is an art major, and she did three years in the H2GP program because she liked painting car bodies. We have people who are math and statistics majors who would just download every piece of data that we had from the car and just create charts and graphs and analyze it. So it's really tough for people just starting out to realize “I might not be interested in engineering, but there’s still something in the program for me”’.
A big part of STEAM education is teamwork – how does teamwork fit into the program?
‘Well, another part of it is actually the competition aspect of it. Because you have to work as a team. If you try and do it just as yourself, you’re not going to get anywhere close to the top teams. So there’s defiantly a whole team-building aspect. The team dynamic is pretty huge throughout the entire program, and if you don’t figure that out, you’re not going to have any success. So I think it’s great for teaching kids how to interact with others, like their peers, or even with their mentors’.
We ask Nicola, the H2GP Race and Program Coordinator for the United States, about how the program might differ from traditional STEM education techniques
‘I think the one of big strengths of the program is an emphasis on finding solutions and solving problems without needing a step-by-step instruction manual. Students are so drilled to memorize and learn by memorizing answers, reading through a textbook, and knowing that there is just one answer for that problem… In this program, just like in any kind of work environment that they go into, that instruction manual, that answer, isn’t necessarily there’.
‘And it's OK to not be successful, to fail and struggle with the car and the process of building it, and then take a step back as a team and utilize all these ways of thinking that are brought in by collaborating. The art and the data and the driver and the engineer – they’re all going to come about it from a different point of view. But how do you collaborate and take all of that to improve your car to take it to the next level without an instruction manual, without a step-by-step guide to get there?’
‘Learning by failing is a huge aspect of the H2GP program. Because when you are making mistakes you are actually learning more, because you’re learning how to improve, how to innovate and take the car and design to the next level. That’s such a valuable learning opportunity that no other class can teach you’
‘These students are leaving high school and they’re ahead of the game for a lot of college students that employers are going to look at. Employers will see them as a team player and a problem solver, they’re not just going to give up when something doesn’t go right, but they’re going to take a step back and find the right solution. That’s a huge lesson to learn especially at such a young age, that many don’t learn until they’re in the workforce. Realizing that different opinions matter, and in fact help you with what you are doing, is a central aspect of the program’.
The H2GP season is already underway and culminates in a World Final to be held later this year.