Psychophysical health and wellbeing in a school: interview with school teacher

The Pilot STE(A)M Learning Ecology (SLE) in Serbia aimed to raise awareness of the importance of psychophysical health and wellbeing for students aged 5 to 19 years old and teachers from the Patrijarh Pavle Gymnasium. As their school is not equipped with a gym, pupils designed their desired school gym with the help of an architect. Other activities included prototyping and 3d printing gym equipment, and organising a race, a quiz and a research study, and creating a set of healthy meal plans.

To learn more about this learning ecology, read the interview we conducted with Ms Gordana Medić Simić, a philosophy teacher from the Patrijarh Pavle Gymnasium!

Can you “paint a picture” of the context in which your STE(A)M Learning Ecology operates? Describe a bit the local setting where the SLE is located as well as the real life challenge it addresses. How does it link to the school curriculum?

In our school, there has been ambient teaching for years. For those unfamiliar with the concept, ambient teaching involves learning outside the classroom once a month. This can take place in museums, archives, botanical gardens, zoos, libraries, institutes, faculties, and laboratories. This project aims to bridge theoretical knowledge with real-life needs and raise awareness of possibilities of action. Specifically, we address the issue of our school lacking a gym for physical education by integrating this challenge into our STEAM Learning Ecology project. By highlighting the importance of physical health, we have linked this issue to various school subjects such as biology, chemistry, psychology, and both spiritual and physical education. Our interdisciplinary approach underscores the necessity of building a gym, thereby incorporating the gym construction into our educational framework. This project not only tackles a real challenge but also involves active collaboration with local and city authorities, enhancing the community’s investment in our students’ well-being and education.

Could you briefly present the stakeholders involved in this SLE? Their roles and the interactions occurred to reach out and actively engage them. Did you already know them, or you reached out to new ones?

Architect Nenad Jovanović, who designed the multifunctional hall, was involved in the project. He is also the parent of two children who attended and are attending our school. Also, Dušan Macura, a former student, basketball player, coach and well-known participant in knowledge quizzes, was involved in the project’s activities. Uroš Samardžić, a sports journalist, is also a participant in the project and a former student of the school, as well as Aleksa Janjušević, a psychology student. Danijela Marković from the Institute for the Studies of Culture and Christianity, as well as the Center for the Promotion of Science, were also involved in the project, as well as the Ada Ciganlija management. 

Have you already worked in similar open schooling projects in the past? If not, how was this first experience?

We worked on projects in cooperation with the local community, various educational, sports and cultural institutions. Those are always nice experiences. 

Were there any challenges occurred while implementing the STE(A)M Learning Ecology and/or interacting with the relevant stakeholders? How did you address them?

Challenges are always present. Good organization is especially important, given that work at school involves schedules that are sometimes difficult to coordinate. Nevertheless, good motivation and the desire to cooperate and achieve a goal that goes beyond the framework of the narrow school curriculum finds a way. It was the same with the collaborators on the project. Everyone wanted to contribute and saw both personal and collective interest in it.

Why do you think that your STE(A)M Learning Ecology was so helpful? What are the benefits and the added value brought to your community? What are the benefits and added value brought to the educational experience of students/teachers involved? Please think about the skills developed.

Stepping out of the box of the usual work of the school and the teaching process brings teachers and students to a more informal form of communication. Therefore, psychosocial skills develop in a more spontaneous way in all participants. Also, creativity, communication, collaboration skills, organization of work and the ability to perform in public crystallize as important skills that young people develop in this way of collaboration. Also, project collaborators better connect with young people and establish new acquaintances, exchange ideas and plan future activities. 

How do you think that your STE(A)M Learning Ecology engaged and attracted learners to opportunities in science-related fields, in particular young females?

Although it was not our priority in this project to specifically engage girls, it happened that an equal number of boys and girls were involved. The girls from the IT domain were especially active in modelling and 3D printing exercise equipment. They were also active in other activities. This is obviously a manifestation of ongoing processes related to equal participation in school and other activities. 

Looking ahead, do you plan to further collaborate with the school and the other stakeholders involved? Do you envisage to further sustain this SLE in the near/ long future?

Yes, we will continue to work on similar projects and involve many stakeholders. For now, as far as the construction of the physical school gym is concerned, there are indications that our partner could be the city and local authorities. Also, numerous topics in the field of natural and social sciences are being prepared, which could develop into similar partnership projects as this completed project.  

Any additional comment and/or suggestion to improve the methodology and the implementation of SLEs is welcome 😊 Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!

It is always good to connect the school with life and the real environment and its needs. It would be good if there were more opportunities for similar projects, as well as if larger funds could be allocated in order to involve a larger number of people with their creative ideas and potential. 

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