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  • James Armstrong

Intro & STEAM Education in the Clarence Valley

2015 was a year of developing personal interests, reaching out to and engaging people, and understanding the world of technology driven success and digital innovation.

I (that guy pictured holding the big aircraft below) am a designer by trade. I design roads and bridges and anything affiliated. I've been doing this for six years, and have forever enjoyed the process of manufacturing something physical from a [mere] thought. It fascinates me that I can witness or partake in reception of an influence, utilise it in some form whether in an original state or my own rendetion and produce something one can look at, hold and use.

In my profession as a Civil Designer I produce road designs in three dimensional space within a computer program, and it fit so well with the way my mind works. I see in three dimensions like most, though I also think in three dimensions. I know it doesn't sound too exciting, but I've trained my self to design something in my mind and then utilise that to manufacture something in detail that others can witness. I love my current role, and I took to it so well in the beginning. And although I have been modelling and designing roads for six years using computer aided design (CAD) tools, I've been using those tools for much longer to produce all sorts of things, functional and non-functional.

As a young boy I spent my time in open fields of a farm, running around chasing model aircraft. Forever in love with flight, and absolutely obsessed with destroying toys in order to understand how they worked. A hobby that never disappeared from my life. I still play with model aircraft, and I still destroy material items trying to understand how they work (though nowadays I have a higher success rate at returning them to their original state, or even better than!).

Little did I understand at the time, that what I was doing was teaching my self about our world that we have created. Educating my self on the philosophy of human curiosity and intuition and lots more. I took to learning about material items, understanding how to use them for good and how some decide to use them for bad. I developed a respect for manufacturing, crafting and designing. And I've never let go of it since.

I now research the use of autonomous vehicles for specific uses in human endeavour (in my spare time) and I honestly have never had as much enjoyment as I have while using a hobby that I am so in-tune with for a real-world application. I didn't think my life would lead me here when I was chasing rubber band powered aeroplanes around the field! It's humbling to see something become fruitful after learning and understanding it for so long and throughout that time enjoying it thoroughly.

So...That brings me to where I am now. Loving my time as a designer and sharing my passions and interests with those around me.

At the end of 2015 I visited two Clarence Valley schools to share some information and knowledge about technologies that are available today. Technologies that we can learn and understand complicated sciences and processes with. I wanted to engage with students within our rural areas and see what they're interested, how they want to learn and how they can be enabled to do so. I didn't think it would be so incredibly fun and informative.

One of the current topics in the world of education is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEAM or STEM) which I am sure most have heard before. It's amazing! Technology is at a point in it's time where it is affordable, easy [easier] to learn than it has been in the past and the avenues of information communication (access and collaboration specifically) available today are extraordinary. Kids are completing tasks in primary schools that were not long ago daunting for a university level student to complete. What does that mean for our next generations?!

I wanted to visit these schools to gain a response. I wanted to learn from these students. I was walking in with no preparation and with my own mind oveflowing with topics to talk about. And it was fantastic. I learned from these days that I actually knew what I was talking about (shock horror!). I realised that I don't share my endeavours well. Which is why this blog has started.

So we discussed the aforementioned STEAM principles, we talked about 3D printing, modelling and design, manufacturing, data capture and processing, computer programming, autonomous vehicles and drones, the human interests and curiosities we develop and how following passions and interests lead to success. I wish I remembered it well enough to document it properly. It was such an enjoyable rush to talk with the students, their parents and their teachers. It is such a blur, all I can say is wow! The kids of today are amazingly capable and wonderful. Their predecessors have created a world where given the opportunity, they can thrive beyond their wildest dreams.

What stood clear in my mind was just how much I have failed in my time so far. And just what that meant to me. I realised that I don't look at failure like most do. Failure to me is a tool. It's a means of getting something done, and getting it done the best way you possibly can. See, humans are destined to fail - and it is when we appreciate it that we see true success. Failure has been so wonderful to me. It has allowed me to delve deep into a topic or task and understand not only an end result but the entire process to produce that result. I won't say I try to fail(and I definitely do things that are more than likely going to fail), though I certainly do appreciate it when it happens. Because when it does, it is a time to reflect and understand just what led you there.

I'd like to give a special thank you to Tanya Fisher of South Grafton High School and Sandra Armstrong of Maclean Public School. I am forever thankful for the opportunity to talk to you both, your teachers, your students and their parents. It is something I wish to extend on into the future.

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