STEM at The Patch Primary School

So much has been written and spoken about STEM education in recent years; how it can improve our maths and science results, our job prospects for the future, develop innovation and problem-solving skills, stimulate learning and improve academic knowledge and skills in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering (design and technologies) and maths.

  1. So what is STEM education?

STEM education is a term used to refer collectively to the teaching of the disciplines within its teaching umbrella, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and also to a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching that increases student interest in STEM-related fields and improves students’ problem solving and critical analysis skills (Education Council, Australia, 2015).

In the Victorian Curriculum, the Learning Area “Technologies” comprises two strands, “Design and Technologies” and “Digital Technologies”. The Engineering component of STEM is taught through the Design and Technologies strand and the Technology component of STEM is taught through the Digital Technologies strand.

  1. Why do we need it?

The Department of Education and Training (DET) released a document in September, 2016, called “STEM in the Education State” which stated that there is “a greater need for STEM capabilities than ever before. Our employers are increasingly looking for workers who are creative problem solvers, innovative and critical thinkers, and able to use new technologies”. The Office of the Chief Scientist has suggested that 75% of the fastest growing occupations require STEM knowledge and yet overall student results in Australia in science and mathematics are declining.

In addition to the career opportunities that STEM education provides is the opportunity to improve student engagement and participation, encourage active learning and address some real world problems and challenges through an innovative and stimulating STEM education program.

  1. What will STEM education look like at The Patch Primary School?

Deeper learning occurs when a cross-disciplinary approach is adopted that exposes students to a range of thinking processes, skills, content, and applications. STEM can provide students with the chance to develop their critical thinking, creativity, communication and self-direction.

At The Patch Primary School all students shall participate in STEM education equivalent to an hour or more per week. Some lessons will be doubled in length and run fortnightly to allow longer session times, others will be run every week. Classes will utilise our Eco-Centre, wetlands, gardens and general school grounds and teachers include Nina (preps and year 2/3), Tania and Megan (year 1), and Michelle (year 4, 5, and 6). A timetable identifies when each class has their STEM lesson with these teachers.

In years prep – 3 the class programs will naturally incorporate the STEM learning focus into their broader program as the teachers delivering the STEM program also teach in the classroom. In years 4, 5 and 6, the classroom teachers shall be attending the STEM classes with their grade and the program shall be delivered as a partnership allowing classroom teachers an intimate knowledge of the program and a seamless integration with their maths, digital technology, design and technology and related subjects and capabilities.

 

  1. Is there an actual process for STEM education?

The STEM process is an extension of the processes that underpin learning in science, design and technology and engineering:

 

 

  1. What would that look like as a planning document for teaching and learning?

Process planning template for STEM

1. Inspiration - What topic, idea or question is the inspiration for this unit of work?

  •         Local news items - are there water usage problems, renewable energy projects, town planning proposals or social issues that are of interest to students?
  •         Are there state, national or global issues that your students might be interested in - deforestation, decline in biodiversity, drought, pollution, food security?
  •         What technologies are your students using and do they know how it works - electronic toys, smartphones, computers?
  •         What themes are you working with that can be extended into STEM? For example, in a unit on the Gold Rush or Explorers, you might incorporate “How to survive in the outback - getting water/staying warm”

2. Process - How would the STEM process be followed for this situation? What would happen at each stage?

ASK

  •         Identify the need and constraints
  •         Is a survey necessary?
  •         Define the problem
  •         Prepare a design brief
  •         Do background research
  •         A KWHL chart (What you know, what you want to know, how will you find out and what you learn about a topic)

IMAGINE

  •         Generate ideas and record using sticky notes, butcher’s paper or digital alternatives such as Padlet, AnswerGarden or Stormboard
  •         Brainstorm possible solutions and alternatives individually or in small groups
  •         Creative thinking routines, such as those suggested at the Visible Thinking website, might assist.
  •         Use Higher Order Thinking Strategies (HOTS)

 

PLAN

  •         Think, sketch and label
  •         Google SketchUp, Google Drawings, and various apps are available to create digital plans
  •         Choose a solution
  •         Prepare materials
  •         It is worthwhile asking students to submit their plans prior to the construction phase - you can incorporate numeracy by providing a ‘budget’ and allocating ‘costs’ to materials and equipment, which need to be listed in their plans.

CREATE

  •         Construct and develop a prototype
  •         Traditional art, woodworking and metalworking equipment may be suitable
  •         3D printers, laser cutters and various electronics kits are available to bring designs to reality
  •         Students are always keen to jump to this part first - encourage them to do their research and planning by holding tools and materials back until they are ready

EVALUATE

  •         Test
  •         Analyse and troubleshoot
  •         Use data and graphs to compare results

 

IMPROVE

  •         Refine and adjust
  •         How can the design be modified to improve the structure and function?

 

COMMUNICATION

  •         Share results with students as a presentation to the class or school
  •         Write a blog post or contribute to a school newsletter
  •         Create a poster or slideshow
  •         Display your work at school

 

 

3. Curriculum - Where can this inspiration fit into the curriculum?

Which year levels could it be planned to suit?

Science

http://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/science/curriculum/f-10

Design and Technologies

http://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/technologies/design-and-technologies/curriculum/f-10

 

Digital Technologies

http://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/technologies/digital-technologies/curriculum/f-10

Mathematics

http://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/mathematics/curriculum/f-10

Critical and Creative Thinking

http://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/critical-and-creative-thinking/curriculum/f-10

Personal and Social Capabilities

http://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/personal-and-social-capability/curriculum/f-10

4. Supporting knowledge and skills - What will students need to be taught so that they can engage meaningfully with this topic?

Vocabulary

 

Content knowledge

 

Skills

 

5. Supporting resources - What physical and other resources are required?

  •         Is internet access required and available?
  •         Do you have access to experts that can visit the school or connect via Skype or email?
  •         The CSIRO “Scientists in Schools”, “Mathematicians in Schools” and “ICT in Schools” programs can match schools with experts
  •         “Code the Future” is a network of developers and educators that can assist by connecting schools to a local expert in programming.

6. Assessment- How can the curriculum outcomes be assessed in this unit?

 

  •         Depending on the curriculum achievement standards identified, there may be a range of assessment opportunities
  •         Self-assessment rubrics are valuable tools to build student independence
  •         Peer assessment can be used to evaluate the designed solution

 

 

 

 

  1. What kinds of activities will my child undertake in STEM education?

For term 1, 2017, our students will be exploring the following themes in their STEM class and related subjects:

  • Year Prep: We shall be introducing students to the school garden, in particular the alphabet and vegetable gardens. Students shall experience the joy of garden activities, build a connection to the garden, learn some simple gardening skills and explore some of the health links to growing food.

  • Year 1: planning still being finalised.

  • Year 2/3: planning still being finalised.

  • Year 4: We have a family of sugar gliders living in a gum tree near our year 4 classrooms. What else lives in our school ground, particularly our wetlands, and how can we ensure that we provide a healthy habitat for our local wildlife? Through a focus on our wetlands, we shall be investigating, auditing, and analysing the value of this habitat and taking actions to improve and protect it for our local wildlife.

  • Year 5 & 6: Researching, designing, consulting and collaborating to develop a Welcome Garden at the front of the school (near birch trees and greeting tree) that enhances our student learning areas, provides a community hub, promotes our school ethos and values and teaches practical skills and knowledge through a hands on project.

     

  1. Are there any useful resources that can give me additional information about STEM or provide examples of STEM activities?

     

 

  • https://www.scootle.edu.au - Access to a range of resources for all levels with contributions from Primary Connections, ACARA, Education Services, CSIRO, Museum Victoria, ABC TV, and more.

 

  • http://www.edutopia.org/article/STEM-resources - an American site that provides resources, blogs, videos, newsletters, downloads and examples of STEM projects, lessons and models. From “What is STEM?” to “Taking STEM beyond the school walls” and everything in between.

 

 

 

 

  • www.resourcesmartschools.vic.gov.au/ - ResourceSmart Schools is a Victorian Government initiative that helps schools benefit from embedding sustainability in everything they do. Schools take action to minimise waste, save energy and water, promote biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

  • www.coolaustralia.org/ - Cool Australia is a leading not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting teachers with high quality teaching tools, resources and professional development courses.

 

 

  • www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au - Provides a range of activities developed by the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation suitable for primary school students as well as publications for reference on a range of topics.

 

  • https://www.stemgames.org.au/ - The Australian video game challenge is a free national competition open to all Australian students in Years 5-12

 

 

 

 

  • http://riaus.org.au/ - Ri Aus is Australia’s science channel, with news, events, videos and educational resources, including national curriculum-aligned unit plans for upper primary and middle school students. These resources introduce students to the range of different STEM careers available and develop their understanding of the importance of STEM in their everyday lives.