STEM hub supports students most in need

by Brett Henebery08 Nov 2017
Reports have shown that by the age of 15, students from regional Australian communities can be up to five times more likely to be low performers than a student in a higher socio-economic area.
To address this, Samsung and Social Ventures Australia (SVA) are working together to expand the Bright Spots Schools Connection program through the creation of a STEM Learning Hub.

Since its launch in December 2016, the Hub has provided STEM expertise and support to schools in communities where those resources are most needed.

As part of the partnership, Samsung and SVA commissioned a Foundation Paper which outlines current approaches to education and provides teachers with a useful, evidence-based framework of action which they can implement in their own schools.

Foundation Paper author, Professor Tom Lowrie from the University of Canberra, told The Educator that the paper provides key insights into how to best approach STEM education, particularly in low socio-economic communities.

“The most important insight being that content knowledge cannot be siloed, rather, we need to situate it in the context of a community and everyday life for it to have the greatest impact,” Lowrie told The Educator.

“While there are many targeted initiatives that aim to assist low socio-economic communities in STEM education, these are often limited by time, resources, funding and staffing issues.”

Lowrie said that a consolidated approach is needed to overcome the broader issues facing schools.

“Rather than taking a siloed, content-based approach, educators should focus on the practices that underpin STEM, such as problem posing and spatial reasoning,” Lowrie said.

“In this way, teachers will be able to relate key learnings in science, technology, engineering and maths to everyday life.”

The paper also outlines how integrated approaches to STEM education, such as incorporating problem-based, project-based, or inquiry-based approaches to learning, help enable students to explore, come to their own understandings, and solve their own problems.

“To this point, school principals require the resources [and courage] to consider programs that enhance STEM thinking outside of traditional discipline compartments,” Lowrie said.

Lowrie said that when presented and understood as an acronym, STEM can be limiting in that it is confined to the traditional ideas behind science, technology, engineering and maths.

“It doesn’t allow students to make connections between subject matter at school and their broader lives,” Lowrie said.

“However, it is possible to go beyond the traditional disciplines of STEM by inspiring design-thinking, problem solving and investigative learning.”

Lowrie said that by removing the dots and helping students and teachers understand STEM as more than content, schools can equip students with a practical skillset that becomes ingrained in their daily lives, and one that can be implemented in a variety of careers across all industries.

‘Developing real services to solve real problems’
Teacher case study: Stacey Quince from Campbelltown Performing Arts High School (CPAHS) said her staff have successfully created units of work that allow for integrated STEM learning experiences, whilst still maintaining subject integrity.

Quince said Campbelltown Performing Arts High School has been implementing STEM education for the past three years, testing a range of models to identify the best approach for its students.

“As a result, STEM has been incorporated into the curriculum in a range of ways. The culmination of this research is the development of the 2018 Year 7 model,” Quince told The Educator.

“We currently have 10 teachers from maths, science, and technology and applied studies developing a fully integrated cross-disciplinary program.”

Quince said this approach allows subject specialists to collaboratively develop and ‘team-teach’ rigorous and engaging STEM in purpose-built spaces.

“Our pedagogical approach is underpinned by a focus on supporting students to develop real products and services to solve local and community problems,” she said.

“One example is an environmental sustainability program. Year 8 students recently worked with the local city council to improve the community’s use of local parklands and increase their understanding of the biodiversity in the area.”

Quince said students wrote and published books and created and produced high quality signage which has been installed on site.

“Such programs encourage students to think critically and design solutions to problems – both key practices underpinning STEM education,” she said.


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