Sarah Tully, project architect at Bank of Ireland, speaking at Inspirefest 2017. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Trinity Walton Club: Putting students in the driving seat

18 Sep 2017

Meet the people at the heart of Trinity Walton Club, a learning hub that aims to enable new methods of teaching and learning STEM.

We all know the importance of getting kids interested in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) at an early age.

The problem is, the structured nature of the classroom and a strong focus on exams often deter young adults, starving them of the ability to foster original ideas and to learn in a way that stimulates their own interests.

At Inspirefest 2017, we were joined by Dr Arlene Gallagher, assistant professor of physics at Trinity College Dublin (TCD); Sarah Tully, project architect at Bank of Ireland; and Sarah Joyce, a student at Castleknock Community College, who gave us a glimpse at a programme that is turning education on its head.

The birth of Trinity Walton Club

Gallagher kicked off the discussion by mentioning her early recognition of science as something that “was going to change the world”, and she needed to be involved in this transformation.

In 2014, Gallagher founded Trinity Walton Club (TWC), an enrichment programme to promote STEM education for second-level students. Based at TCD, the learning hub aims to create a link between students and potential role models in education, encouraging the former to forge their own path in this field.

“Our pedagogic philosophy centralises around developing capacity for learner autonomy, so that these young people feel that they are in the driving seat of their own education.”

Gallagher described the TWC students as “curious, independent in thought, creative problem-solvers” who are “courageous enough to try, to fail, and to fail better the next time”.

The story of education

Taking to the stage, Tully invited the audience to reflect on a teacher or mentor that made a big impact on their lives.

She said: “The story of education, and good educators, is about vision, hope and possibility. I believe that great educators open the world of possibility to learners, and inspired learners offer hope back into the world.”

She cited the vision of John Henry Newman to “pursue the disinterested pursuit of knowledge” and lead students on their own journey, “often beyond subject matter disciplines, often breaking the rules of intellectual domains”.

Tully went on to discuss the existence of multiple intelligences and the different methods by which people learn.

“So, the question is then: if our brains and our learning styles and our innate intelligences are naturally dynamic and curious, and move in a direction towards flourishing, does it not make sense that the environments and the methodologies we set up for learning should be the same?”

As an alternative to the rigid school curriculum, Tully said that the TWC environment is less instructive and more facilitative, with no exam outputs. Students choose to attend classes on a Saturday of their own volition, led purely by their love of science.

“It’s in spaces like the Walton Club we see the potential – not just for learning, but for flourishing in education.”

Alpha with a major passion

A shining example of these “passionate, forward-thinking innovators and entrepreneurs”, Joyce gave the Inspirefest audience a personal insight into life as a TWC alpha.

“From my very first Saturday at Trinity, a plethora of fascinating questions – that 13-year-old me was just beginning to think about and wonder – were raised.”

An enthusiastic lover of mathematics, Joyce said that TWC gave her the ability to ponder over these questions and come up with the answers herself. It sparked a flame of curiosity that continued to burn across many branches of thought and creativity.

“Who knew the music I was making with my violin could be explained by physics? Who knew that grass wasn’t actually green? And who knew that I could make a difference in the world?”

Joyce concluded: “Walton Club is one of the most incredibly diverse environments, or any environment, that I’ve ever been a part of. It’s truly heightened my awareness for the need for diversity … I think society as a whole should be more diverse, and I want to play a part in building and engineering this.”

For more information on the Trinity Walton Club programme, including upcoming Easter and summer camps, click here.

Shelly Madden
By Shelly Madden

Shelly Madden joined Silicon Republic as sub-editor in September 2016 to realise her lifelong dream of being a professional nitpicker. Before this, she worked as a freelance writer for various newspapers and made coffee for people who use the word ‘expresso’. She enjoys red wine on rare occasions, such as weekdays and weekends.

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