“Our Grade 5 students have had an amazing experience, imagining and creating their own theatre right in the middle of Melbourne. Metro Tunnel’s resources have really helped students to work together in the Minecraft environment and develop the skills they need to become city-builders one day,” says Jordan Chamerski, Woodend Primary School.
It’s a long way from hard hats and hi vis in assembly, but the new brand of school engagement by industry in Australia is increasingly relevant in these unusual times. Mini Melbourne – the Minecraft city which Jordan’s students created their theatre in – was dreamt up by Metro Tunnel. This huge railway project, due to complete in 2025, launched its education program in 2018, and has welcomed more than 6,000 students to its visitor centre in Melbourne’s CBD, in addition to the many tens of thousands more who have now logged on remotely to its Minecraft resources.
This is just the start. Drivers for more programs like that of Metro Tunnel are clear. At federal and state level, promotion of STEM learning is a strong focus. Major transport and infrastructure projects can support enquiry-based learning with real world challenges as a basis, and create their own talent pipeline at the same time – sparking the interest of future engineers, designers and technicians. Metro Tunnel’s success has been mirrored by ‘West Gate Kids’ – West Gate Tunnel Project’s schools program – which has seen science educator Dr. Loz entertain primary-aged students throughout the West of Melbourne with a hands-on city-building workshop where they get to make electricity run through carrots and connect their very own model toilet (the project needed to divert a sewer, you see).
The Major Transport Infrastructure Authority – the organisation behind the ‘Big Build’ brand – is now developing a long-term approach to engaging young people in communities close to its projects, to ensure they are not only well informed about the works going on locally, but are also inspired to develop the skills needed to work on similar future projects. And by sharing resources, more students in Victoria can benefit. Strategies may range from e-mentoring – connecting project volunteers with relevant expertise to support science or art projects at schools, to partnerships with museums like Scienceworks and Melbourne Museum, site visits, design thinking workshops and careers immersion days.
While STEM (or STEAM) is the most natural fit, the curriculum links for these projects are surprisingly diverse. Mini Melbourne was built around an ‘archaeology adventure’, linking closely with the city’s history but also supporting geography (think virtual navigation) and capabilities such as teamwork (the adventure was devised as a multiplayer experience). Hoardings are a necessity for building works, but why not work with students to get artistic and tell a story on a huge blank canvas, as one level crossing removal project has done? And it goes without saying that personal safety is an important message during construction – some of us might remember the ‘dumb ways to die’ campaign by Metro Trains Melbourne. The somewhat gory characters may not be featured these days, but safety education still forms a big part of its school outreach program.
So what next – and what impact does the pandemic have on these education-business connections? In major projects land, it’s heartening to see schools embracing remote learning. Use of platforms like Zoom and Teams reflects how we already communicate with colleagues in different offices and businesses, meaning that the next generation will be familiar with key aspects of the future workplace. And these tools can also help us to connect with students much more easily, reducing travel time and insurance barriers, and increasing the time these future workers get to learn from industry role models. For me it represents a step change for the better, and I for one am excited about our industry building stronger connections with even more students and teachers in Victoria in 2020 and beyond.
Toolbox talks for children learning from home
Major Road Projects Victoria is working with primary schools in Melbourne’s west to teach children about local construction projects while at home. The virtual ‘toolbox’ sessions will be delivered online and will be hosted by an MRPV engineer working on major transport infrastructure projects happening nearby. Children will be taught about bridge construction and design through a hands-on activity using common household items. An MRPV engineer will also answer children’s questions about major road upgrades happening in their local area.
Metro Tunnel Education Program https://metrotunnel.vic.gov.au/education
Mini Melbourne Minecraft resources https://metrotunnel.vic.gov.au/minimelbourne
West Gate Kids http://westgatetunnelproject.vic.gov.au/westgatekids
Big Build https://bigbuild.vic.gov.au/
About the author
Dominic Luddy is a former French teacher, father of two boys and passionate advocate of linkage between students and industry. He has led the development of school engagement programs for major projects in the United Kingdom and Australia, including High Speed 2, West Gate Tunnel Project and Metro Tunnel.
He is currently working for GHD as a Team Leader in its Engagement, Communication and Communities team, and is supporting the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority and North East Link Project to develop a long-term approach to school engagement in Victoria.