Berkhamsted Group, Heatherton | 30.05.2024

STEAM Pathways with Nicola Nicoll

STEAM Pathways with Nicola Nicoll

Some of my earliest treasured childhood memories involve the joy of learning about the world around me. Lying on a warm patio watching a line of ants carrying breadcrumbs, rubbing wax onto the runner of a sledge to make it go faster or the amazement of observing a water boatman walk on water. I asked myself, if these wonders are part of everyday life, what else could be out there?

It is my aspiration that the girls at Heatherton are free to dream big. Therefore, my interest in girls in STEAM is to support, encourage, and enable girls to understand that every pathway is open to their choice and to nurture the traits needed to thrive.

From the moment they arrive at the Heatherton Nursery, pupils are visited by science specialists who teach basic scientific principles through playful discovery, meaning pupils often don’t even realise that they’re learning. For example, pupils pour water down a pipe into differently shaped containers or hold an animal skull and talk through the shape of its features to work out its identity.

Having spent a few days in Helsinki to see what we could learn from the incredible Kindergartens there, we linked with Finnish KideScience. We are now rolling out a pedagogical approach to our EYFS teaching which evolved from evidence-based research. The premise is that the girls learn through discovery and expertly guided trial and error!

As pupils progress through the Prep school, they enjoy the annual celebration of British Science Week, where pupils may learn to code a robotic arm, test how far slime can stretch, or build marshmallow catapults. The girls enjoy hands-on trips to The Science Museum – Wonderlab, Natural History Museum, and FSC Amersham to enhance their immersive learning. We believe that using a specialist lab is a game changer in the breadth of understanding that can be achieved. Pupils are visited by guest speakers from some of the most esteemed roles in STEAM, from Professor of Space Physics and budding astronaut Suzie Imber (an Old Berkhamstedian) to Professor Matthew Snape (who worked with the Oxford Vaccine Group during COVID-19). These guests help pupils discover the kinds of STEAM careers they could aspire to.

We recognise the importance of art and design and food technology in developing the girls’ creativity, motor skills, critical thinking, and collaboration. They learn about nutrition, seasonality and sustainability and link this to the dishes they produce. Engaging in Artist workshops and entering competitions enables our pupils to recognise the significance of the Arts within our society and builds their confidence in self-expression and communication.

We have recently adopted the mastery approach to teaching maths from Years 1 to 4, with elements also being adopted in the early years. In Years 5 and 6, we have a bespoke curriculum that prepares pupils for the rigours of 11+, scholarship papers and senior school. Pupils love the stepped approach to learning, and the opportunity to explore mathematics through online tools.

Heatherton is a pioneer school in showing our girls that studying and enjoying STEAM subjects is as much for them as for their male counterparts. We are confident that Heatherton’s excellent work promoting the sciences will inspire even more female pupils to pursue STEAM subjects through GCSE and beyond to be a force for good.

Nicola Nicoll
Headteacher, Heatherton School


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