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“The ‘a’ which stands for ‘Arts’” is crucial in our education program – The Gluon STEAM Labs

Interview with Fleur Wirtz,
Project Manager Education, Gluon Foundation, Brussels

What is the work of Gluon?

Gluon is an independent non-profit organization and a network bringing together researchers, artists, entrepreneurs and scientists. For example, we work with an artist who builds robots that use micro-organisms in the water to generate energy to move. In order to come up with innovative solutions to societal questions, we collaborate with universities, artists and industry in Belgium and elsewhere.

And Gluon education projects?

That’s my part. It is bringing this interdisciplinary approach to secondary school programs. We organize two laboratories per year for young people in between fourteen and eighteen years old. They come up with their own ideas and then, within a week, they realise these ideas with support from artists and technologists. We explore the city with them and they get input from sociologists and artists before they start working on their own projects. They gather and use data on pollution in its various meanings (sound, light, air, water, CO2 et cetera) and visualize these with the tools they create during the lab week.

In your labs, there is a special emphasis on creativity…

Yes, the programs are called STEAM-labs. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but we think more is needed and also want to work with the “a” which stands for “Arts”. We’re not the only ones to do this, but we think it’s crucial and it should be put in practice more widely. It’s mostly about adding a critical approach to working with technology and scientific subject matter. This means asking questions such as ‘How do the projects I develop actually contribute to society?’ and putting the things we create in their social context. We think it’ s important to depart from the life world of the pupils participating; they come up with an idea that interests them and they work on it by using all the STEM disciplines. In this way we think that these abstract subjects like mathematics, are put in context and become relevant to the students’ direct environment.

Does this creative approach also imply more freedom in learning than usual?

Definitely, in the sense that participants can depart from their own interests. The teacher actually is more of a coach than a teacher. Mostly, they have teaching experience, but it’s not necessarily required, as long as they have the right social and content skills. For them, the experience also is one of discovery and invention. It’s a collective and playful process.

After her master studies in sociology, Fleur Wirtz worked as a journalist in both London and Amsterdam. She combined her writing activities with a teaching and research position at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. In 2016, she got on board of the Gluon team as education manager.