You have probably heard of the acronym STEM. The term was introduced early in the 21st century to refer to careers and/or curriculum centred around science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the most rapidly growing industries in the world. As the world decided to ramp up technological innovation, it emerged that in order for economies to remain competitive, the movement should be around integrating STEM into educational frameworks.
The ‘A’ was later introduced to pay tribute to the Arts. A ‘STEAM’ framework teaches students how to think critically and creatively, preparing them for careers outside of the basic sciences, e.g., an architect, medical illustrator, or digital sound technician. It allows for students to think deeper about problems and communicate an abstract idea.
With this subject in mind, I’d like to introduce you to QuestFriendz – a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) educational children’s book publisher, founded by Dr. Thomas Bernard and Lisa Moss. Shortly after their twin daughters were born in 2014, Lisa and Thomas started to look for ways to begin nurturing and developing their girls’ curiosity and foundational STEAM skills.
They found a lack of options available especially for children younger than 8 years old and felt it was time for all young children to see that STEAM is something for them regardless of gender, ethnicity or abilities. This was the starting point for QuestFriendz and their overarching mission.
Both Lisa and Thomas are incredibly passionate about sparking children’s interest in STEAM/STEM from a young age and believe the best way to do this is through interactive storytelling – books which feature a number of simple educational challenges, or ‘quests’ within an engaging story, enabling children to use their 21st century learning skills (the 4Cs – critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication) to find solutions.
They self-published a children’s book in 2020 to do just this – The Adventures of Lillicorn. The concept was so well received by retailers, teachers and readers that they are now working with a world-class Publishing team to adapt this idea and develop a new series of children’s books – think PJ Masks meets The Magic Faraway Tree with a questing, STEAM-learning twist for 4-8-year-olds.
The first book in the new series will publish in early 2022 and features a fun and diverse mix of characters, including Lillicorn, Bea Bumble and Leo Zoom, who children need to work alongside to solve a variety of challenges; they then receive rewards for every quest they successfully complete.
To bring the existing book to life in class, QuestFriendz has developed a Teacher’s Digital Guide which includes lesson plans, interactive STEM quest class games, printable STEM activity sheets and award certificates. The Guide provides teachers with tips and tools on how to use the book in class and how to extend and adapt the learning experience depending on age/ability. They are currently adapting this existing guide for the new series.
As well as books and teaching resources, QuestFriendz creates a wealth of free resources to help young children develop their STEM skills in a fun, screen-free way. These activities are hosted on their website – www.questfriendz.com. They also share #STEMSaturday challenges every week on their social channels to further engage parents and children with STEM and regularly post articles on their blog about the importance of STEM learning along with a host of ideas and tips on how to inspire STEM learning both at home and in the classroom.
The STEAM movement is not an attempt to take away from STEM or its subject areas – instead the idea is to enhance the framework by invoking a greater sense of creativity. In fact, one of the objectives behind this movement is to entice students who might not otherwise consider a STEM job to do just that by adding a focus on the arts and integrating all five disciplines in a creative way.
The idea is to teach kids that they don’t have to be only analytical or only creative — they can be both. To be successful both now and down the road, one must be both an analytical thinker and a creative thinker. This, in itself is a recipe for impacting lives positively.
QuestFriendz is interweaving such principles into their projects, helping young children develop their STEM/STEAM skills through interactive STEM learning and storytelling. They aim to inspire and equip the next generation to pursue STEM education and careers, reduce the STEM skills shortage and increase female representation and ethnic diversity in STEM.
As with any start up, QuestFriendz did not have it easy at the beginning. One of the challenges they faced was publishing their first book in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve had to be very flexible with their approach, adapting and adjusting along the way as a result of the many uncertainties.
Their initial focus markets all faced extensive lockdown periods both in terms of retail closures and school closures, which was far from ideal when introducing a new concept. They’ve since taken the opportunity and time to better understand their markets and customer needs and have brought on board a top-notch publishing team to help them adapt the idea and develop a new series of children’s books.
Thriving through uncertainty, QuestFriendz has stemmed (No pun intended) from a personal goal/vision is to help bring STEAM learning to the mass, so that every young child sees that STEAM is for them and that they are eager and open to start on this learning journey from a young age.
Lisa and Thomas want children to feel that STEAM learning is possible and accessible for everyone across gender, diverse ethnicities, disabilities and socioeconomic backgrounds. STEAM learning and the closely linked 21st century learning skills (4Cs – critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication) are for everyone and will help to equip the future leaders of tomorrow to be ready to create and innovate in technology rather than just consuming technology. Ultimately, QuestFriendz hopes to play a role in addressing the STEAM skills shortage.
There were several things that inspired Lisa and Thomas to set up QuestFriendz. During Thomas’ time as a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, he was surprised at the limited or, in some cases, non-existent female representation in the Master’s and Bachelor classes he was teaching. This continued to be the case when he made the transition to industry where, as an innovation and technology leader, he was constantly confronted with the challenge of finding the right talent, with limited diversity. He knew that he wanted to make a difference, as did his wife Lisa, but it was only when their twin girls were born that they really felt the need to influence change.
In fact, it was their twin daughters that invented Lillicorn, the star of their published children’s book and new STEAM children’s book series. The girls would spend hours fantasizing about the adventures they could go on with their new imaginary best friend who they named ‘Lillicorn’ and the quests they could help her to complete. Lisa and Thomas loved this idea so much that it became the inspiration for their interactive children’s book stories.
STEAM brings together five critical disciplines to create an inclusive learning environment that encourages all students to participate, collaborate and problem solve. This holistic approach encourages students to exercise both the left and right sides of their brains simultaneously, as they would need to do in a 21st century working environment, and QuestFriendz hopes parents and gatekeepers educate themselves in this discipline to help inspire a love of STEAM learning amongst their children.
QuestFriendz is a STEAM educational children’s book publisher on a mission to inspire a lifelong love of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) learning and careers through interactive storytelling.
At QuestFriendz we are committed to reducing the STEM skills shortage and improving female representation and ethnic diversity in the STEM workforce. We are passionate about embedding STEM concepts in an inspiring and engaging way across educational books, lesson guides and classroom activities. For more information, visit www.questfriendz.com
Lisa Moss grew up in Canada on the remote island of Newfoundland. Her passion for writing children’s stories started at a young age and was re-ignited after the birth of her twin daughters and a 20-year corporate career at several high-tech companies where she became acutely aware of the STEM skills gap. She is Co-Founder of QuestFriendz, a STEAM educational children’s book publisher on a mission to create the next generation of future innovators. Follow her on Twitter @lisa_a_moss
Dr. Thomas Bernard grew up in Paris, France, but spent most of his vacations in a nature-filled region in the south of France. His curiosity for science, technology and discovering the world around him started from a very young age, inspired significantly by his grandfather. His love for coding and the opportunity to create and innovate led him to eventually pursue a PhD in Computer Engineering in The Netherlands, followed by over 15 years in cutting-edge engineering and innovation management roles.
He became profoundly aware of the STEM skills gap and more specifically the gender gap in STEM initially during his time as a computer science lecturer. He is Co-Founder of QuestFriendz and lives in Amsterdam with Lisa Moss and their twin daughters, Emilie and Rebecca. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasAMBernard