Some of Australia’s top STEM students and teachers were awarded at the BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards, and the Indigenous STEM Awards, which aim to celebrate achievement in the STEM space.
STEM professionals and parliamentarians will visit classrooms at over 300 schools across Australia as part of the STEM in Schools program, run by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, which aims to make STEM careers more visible and relatable.
Around 90 STEM professionals and a further 50 Members of Parliament visited classrooms around the nation as part of Australia’s largest volunteer STEM education program.
Last week, Stile Education and CSIRO launched a course of STEM learning lessons as a partnership initiative, trialed first by St Agatha’s Primary School.
The lesson content, which uses CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine as a platform, offers teachers and students integrated STEM learning material that aims to enhance learning outcomes in the area.
Stile Education CEO, Byron Scaf said the concept was developed following the success of the Cosmos-related offering the organisation had already developed for secondary students.
“When I started at Stile it was being led by Dr Alan Finkel, who has gone on to become Australia’s Chief Scientist,” said Mr Scaf, speaking with Education Matters a day after the launch event. “We began working on developing a tool that would make it easy for teachers to create their own fantastic lessons online. The idea wasn’t to create a platform for remote learning, but as a means for teachers to quickly and easily get content to, and receive questions from, their students in real time.”
The ‘A-ha!’ moment came after the launch of Stile’s secondary school offering and the Ebola crisis hit Africa. According to Mr Scaf, Stile used Cosmos’s editorial to demonstrate the science of infectious diseases to students. The results were striking and immediate.
“The students really engaged with the material because they found it relevant; here was a real event they could put into context in their lives,” he said. “That program is available for years 7-10.”
The next mission was to replicate the success of this project for younger years. Hence, Mr Scaf and his team sought a partnership with CSIRO.
“We’ve been through a structured process in order to deliver a universally useful tool that teachers will find easy to integrate on any level,” Mr Scaf said. “We assembled an advisory committee of active teachers, as well as the teachers of those teachers going into primary schools, to ensure we were absolutely meeting the needs of as many classes in Australia as possible.”
The newly released Double Helix Lessons cover everything a teacher is required to teach in Grades 5 and 6 science, including natural disasters, energy and light, and the solar system. The lessons can be easily customised, and consist of a wealth of multimedia. But perhaps most interesting is the concept that Stile has implemented in order to take engagement with the material a step further.
“We’ve designed these lessons to include these really relatable characters that take the students on adventures – science adventures,” said Mr Scaf. “Now that we’ve completed our pilot program with St Agatha’s, we’ve been able to hear some of the feedback from both students and teachers. It’s incredibly exciting to hear the kids say they love it because our characters appeal to their age.”
“The overall result is that we’ve created a means to make it easier for teachers to do what they do best, enhancing their students’ educations. This in turn helps all children to gain access to a higher level of science education – and that’s what we’re most excited about.”
Abutting the debate around STEM skills, questions regarding diversity in Australia’s tech sector have also been raised, with just one quarter of IT graduates and 10 per cent of engineering graduates being women.
According to the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda: ‘we need a concerted, national effort to overcome the cultural, institutional and organisational factors that discourage girls and women from studying STEM’.
Part of its ongoing research for Digital Careers, CSIRO has found that the diversity in tech issue begins at school, where there’s a marked lack of girls studying computer science at both primary and secondary levels.
Led by Dr Jason Zagami from Griffith University, the research has been published under the title: Female participation in school computing: reversing the trend, which attempts to identify some of the key reasons why girls aren’t getting involved.
The report found that computer science has not yet reached the same level of integration into schools as compulsory subjects like mathematics and general science.
In particular, the study suggests that maintaining girls’ interest in computing is critical through Years 7-8, as this is where female participation starts to decline significantly.
Dr Karsten Schulz, Manager for Digital Careers, explains that addressing parent preconceptions, exposure to positive role models and developing programs specifically for girls are all methods for maintaining their interest in the subject.
“Hearing from successful females working in the field and being exposed to the different career options available in the industry will help young girls to consider computing subjects and professions,” Dr Schulz says.
The report also suggests schools introduce code clubs for girls in early years, before social pressure begins to rise.
Digital Careers is a Government-backed education industry collaboration that combines research, primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions.