Natasha Ryan: Turning Stem into Steam

About Us – turning STEM into STEAM

Join us on an exciting journey through poetry, science and technology, spanning 13.8 billion years!

My name’s Natasha and I’m an Education Officer at The Poetry Society. We’ve launched a new poetry and coding competition for young people aged 4-18 and based in the UK. The theme is ‘connectivity and the universe’ and the deadline is Sunday 19 December 2021. Enter at aboutus.earth

The competition is part of a project called About Us, commissioned for UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK. Developed in collaboration with poets and scientists in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, About Us features a large programme of community engagement and learning opportunities for schools, culminating in a major show that will tour five locations. The show will use projection-mapping technology to explore the many ways life is connected across the universe, from the Big Bang to the present day. Starting with the idea that all the elements we’re made of came from stars, we’ll touch on cellular networks, ecosystems, evolution, linguistic and musical connectivity, technology, and the climate.

The concept of About Us was developed during an extensive R&D phase, in which we were excited to partner with two fantastic organisations: design studio 59 Productions, who created the breath-taking video design for the London Olympic Opening Ceremony; and Stemettes, an organisation that brings young women and non-binary folk into careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

That collaborative approach drives the project. My last job was in university outreach, focussing on modern languages. I lost count of the number of times secondary school students expressed their anxiety over having to choose between Arts/ Humanities and STEM subjects. For too long, the two disciplines have been siloed. In About Us, we’ve paired up with organisations that have very different experiences and skill sets from us to create a deliberately interdisciplinary project, demonstrating that poetry and science are not mutually exclusive. We’ll show young people that STEM subjects are creative, and that poetry can address a wide variety of themes.

We’re producing free resources for schools, full of poetry and coding activities for all key stages. These resources use poetry to understand scientific topics like cell tissue or symbiosis, and use scientific topics to understand poetry – how can mycelium and language be mutually metaphorical? What’s the relationship between enjambment and epithelium?

The resources get young people reading and writing poetry and creating animations, which they can enter into the national competition we’re running. In line with the show, the competition invites young people to reflect on the infinite ways in which we are connected to the universe, the natural world, and one another. It’s really important to us that young people have a voice in the final show: the competition winners will have the chance to see their work featured in the show – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – as well as receiving talent development opportunities and goodies.

Alongside the competition, we’ll deliver poetry and coding workshops in primary schools in each of the towns the show will visit. The work the children create will also feature in the final show, so they play a role in ensuring each event is shaped by the community, for the community. Parallel to this, there will be a programme of adult engagement work, involving local choirs and creative workshops. The first of these events kicked off last week with an inflatable planetarium, stargazing events, a headdress-making workshop in Luton, and a parachuting dinosaur!

We hope there’ll be something for everyone in About Us, and we can’t wait to see the young people’s poems and Scratch projects. If you know a young person who would like to enter the competition or discover the resources, head to aboutus.earth

Natasha Ryan

Natasha Ryan is the Education Officer at The Poetry Society. She manages the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and supports the delivery of slam programmes and Artsmark at The Poetry Society. She has previously worked as an Outreach Officer for the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford, and in 2017 she completed a doctorate on the representation of glass in nineteenth-century French and Belgian poetry.

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