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The Future is Now: Developing The skills and mindset for a complex world

After a busy spring and summer developing our new programmes, we are back into the swing of the school year. Aside from working with schools across Munster, we have been invited to work within the eight Education and Training Board (ETB )schools in Kerry, which are state, co-educational, multi-denominational schools.

We have worked with our local ETB school – Coláiste na Sceilge, Cahersiveen Co. Kerry since 2017, with the CoDesRes project, in which we led three classes a week, on sustainable design and STEAM education, leading on Green Schools and supporting them on their 1KM Health and Well-being trail. We are thrilled to be continuing this work again this year with two main programmes as well as sharing our Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM resources and supporting teachers to use them in ways that are most effective for them.

The resources are the result of an ongoing research programme since 2018, involving close to 1700 learners and their educators. They have been carefully crafted with external experts working across many disciplines and contexts to seamlessly integrate essential skills and competencies into our current education system, aligning it with the demands of the 21st century. Integrating a number of art and design methods and values-led approaches into the current education system and a world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA).

Standardised state curricula often lags behind in preparing students for the rapidly evolving reality of an increasingly complex world. Ireland’s educational system was devised for a different purpose than is now necessary. Increasingly, as with many global education systems this has been evolved to develop human capital within an environment that is focused on 'globalisation and neo-liberal market driven ideologies' (Gleeson 2022:713) a perspective supported by Ball 2012; Rizvi and Lingard 2010; Priestley 2002. Despite educational reform, systemic change is dependent on whether our system, designed for a different era and needs, can adapt to meet the needs of our young people in a VUCA world to address the climate crisis effectively.

A different purpose for education is emerging requiring different values and solutions focused on restoration and adaptation. There are precedents in Ireland’s curriculum evolution that offer direction the progressivist, child-centred, Curaclam na Bunscoile (Department of Education (1971) which portrayed ‘children as active constructors of knowledge rather than receptors of information’.

Aside from sharing our resources, we are running two main programme within Coláiste na Sceilge; a six-week STEAM rotation with each of the Transition Year groups, and a seven-week programme in collaboration with STEMarts Lab in New Mexico, including an exchange programme with the high school, Escola Secundaria Sebastiao e Silva, Oerias, Portugal.

Six-week STEAM rotation: This year we will be delivering an adaptation of our ‘Problem to Pitch’ module, taking selected aspects of lessons and challenges, that support young people to enjoy learning while building adaptive skills in design thinking and the four C’s- Communication, Creativity, Collaboration and Critical Thinking

Week one began with an adaptation of ‘Ready Set Design’; a design activity developed by the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Design skills go beyond the process of creating or constructing a system, service or product, it is a way of thinking, learning and problem solving increasingly relevant for the 21st Century. This session gave learners a playful introduction to design thinking and the VUCA world, which we will build on week-by- week, integrating our own resources, localised challenges and the SDGs.

In week one, learners worked in teams to complete one of the following challenges:

  1. Tower of Knowledge: build a tower that would support the weight of two packs of learning flip cards.

  2. Racing Bridge: build a bridge that would hold a racing car travelling across it

  3. Marble Marvel: build a floating structure that could hold the weight of four large marbles

Original challenge results and iterations image credit MCSS, 2023

Each challenge came with its unique set of parameters and difficulties, presenting an opportunity for our learners to put their problem-solving skills to the test. We also included an additional challenge - teams were provided with a box containing a limited assortment of materials. This limitation was a vital part of the creative process, pushing our learners to think outside the box and come up with ingenious solutions.

Upon completing their initial task, the teams were encouraged to undertake a knowledge exchange, swapping challenges and considering the problems they inherited. This process sought to encourage collaboration, communication and improvement on their new challenges. All the learners met their challenge successfully and were iterated by the follow-on team, introducing them to the iterative innovation.

We are always seeking to improve our resources so we have introduced a straightforward, yet effective feedback system known as "321." This simple system encourages learners to actively participate in shaping their educational experience, fostering a sense of ownership over their learning journey and enabling us to build their requests into the following weeks.

  1. Three things they feel they learned: learners are encouraged to reflect on the knowledge and skills they've gained during the session. This not only reinforces their understanding but also provides valuable insights into what's working well in our teaching approach.

  2. Two things they would like to learn more about or that stood out from the lesson: This aspect provides an opportunity for learners to express their interests and highlight aspects of the lesson that garnered their attention, helping us tailor our lessons to specific interests and curiosity.

  3. One thing, their opinion: If they didn't enjoy a particular class, we encourage them to share their thoughts openly and honestly. Importantly, we also ask for suggestions on how we can make it better. This not only nurtures their ability to provide constructive criticism, but also highlights the idea that they are active participants in their own learning process and that we will listen to them, building trust in the process.

Selection of 321 responses, image credit: MCSS, 2023

The process is not only about feedback, as with the resources, we want them to understand that in the complex, rapidly changing landscape of the 21st century, there often isn't a single "right" answer. Instead, we encourage them to explore, question, and think critically. This shift in perspective is crucial as they face increasingly intricate and "wicked" problems in the world. By fostering open communication and active participation, we hope to impart knowledge, while equipping our learners with the skills and mindset they need to navigate the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Through our resources and programmes we strive for our classrooms to nurture creativity, with learners evolving as architects of their own knowledge, where their future can be reimagined and written by them. As we progress through the weeks of our STEAM rotation program, this immersive and hands-on approach to learning aims to nurture not only creative thinkers but also adaptable problem solvers—skills that will serve our learners well in the complex world they are destined to shape.

Space Messengers International: We are thrilled to be working with Agnes Chavez, STEMarts Lab in New Mexico, as an international partner on the STEMarts Youth Space Programme and delivering the Space Messengers International (SMI) education project. The result of a long-term collaboration, on-going since 2011, between Dr Anita McKeown, and artist Agnes Chavez, this also aligns with the development of Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM Future of Space programme in development for roll out in January 2024.

Images from Space Messengers, Ars Electronica, 2023 image credit MCSS, 2023

Space Messengers International (SMI) is

  1. A large-scale immersive touring projection installation including the Youth Ambassador programme, social VR and the Ask a Physicist station.

  2. Space Messengers International Educational programme

SMI seeks to develop learners' artistic, scientific, and futures literacy. In the Space Messengers workshop, learners explore the universe through the diverse perspectives of experts in the field of science, art, philosophy, futures thinking and culture. The programme encourages learners to explore how the arts, humanities, philosophy, physics and space technologies can deepen our understanding of the universe and expand our identities and connections as planetary citizens. Through the creative process learners begin to imagine alternative sustainable interplanetary futures. The programme outline includes

  1. Preparing for the Space Board by developing an avatar, writing their bios and considering connections and the overview effect.

  2. Particle Physics and Native Science

  3. Multi-Messenger Astronomy

  4. Space Policy

  5. Futures Thinking: Reimagining Humanity

  6. Science Art and Philosophy

Each of these sessions, are devised to be active learning with creative activities, and project that enables the learners to explore their learning further and apply their knowledge. In our first week, learners considered and discussed the Overview Effect, the shift in consciousness reported by astronauts while looking down on earth. The Overview Effect can create a shift in the view of the planet and life on earth and within the programme acts as a springboard to discuss larger, philosophical questions such as ‘Who am I?’, connection and interconnectedness.

The learners then developed a simple avatar and began writing their bios for the Space Board, a collaborative space for STEMarts Lab education and workshops that allows learners to connect and share their work as well as messages and images for the real-time installation. The end of the session saw learners visit the International Space Station, through the VR app Mission ISS. This gave them an introduction to Virtual Reality experience through a focused space-related environment. Over the programme, learners will be exploring this experience further and looking at developing their own VR space linked to a core challenge, that explores the relationship between Earth and Space Science.

The Future is Now.

It is time to prepare today's students for today’s world.

We will share more on both programmes in our next Newsletter, Dec 2023

Selection of avatars, image credit MCSS, 2023

For more information:

Please get in contact at if you are interested in using our resources with your learners.

Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM uses a transdisciplinary, STEAM-based pedagogical approach. Returning to SDG 4, Target 4.7, one of the core missions of the Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM programme is to ensure an arts / design and culture-led approach to learning that is transdisciplinary and transformative. Learning that supports the development of informed citizens, that are systemic, critical and creative thinkers who can apply their knowledge in agile ways that are sensitive, generative and appropriately responsive to context, in relevant and meaningful ways.

This is done through placed-based learning, which enables individuals to experience learning in local, real-life scenarios. Place-based approaches to learning grounded in local communities and contexts are relevant, engaging and inquiry-based. Students gain confidence and competence in affecting change, learning to manage risk, and develop creative, real-world solutions that are eco-socially just and restorative.


Ball, S. J. 2012. Global Education Inc. New Policy Networks and the Neo-Liberal Imaginary. London: Routledge.

Department of Education. 1975. Committee on the Form and Function of the Intermediate Certificate Examination, Final Report. Dublin: Stationery Office

Department of Education. 1971. Primary School Curriculum: Teacher’s Handbook, Part 1. Dublin: Stationery Office.

Gleeson, J. (2022) Evolution of Irish curriculum culture: understandings, policy, reform and change, Irish Educational Studies, 41:4, 713-733, DOI: 10.1080/03323315.2021.1899028

Nasa Podcast, (2019) The Overview Effect Accessed: 15.9.2023 Available here:

Priestley, M. 2018. “Curriculum Making as Social Practice: Complex Webs of Enactment.” The Curriculum Journal 29 (2): 151–158.

Rizvi, F., and B. Lingard. 2010. Globalizing Education Policy. London: Routledge.

STEMarts Lab, (2023) Space Messengers Accessed: 15.9.2023 Available here:

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