STEM as a tool for engagement
I teach Digital Technologies with a STEM focus in regional Queensland. I provide 325 students with a weekly coding and robotics lesson as part of my work with Kalkie State School. These students range in age from 4 to 12 years. I passionately believe that STEM skills are for everyone and that everyone can learn to code. In addition, over the past four years I have built a STEM program at my school, increasing colleagues’ capability and confidence in the area and increasing student achievement in Science. My work extends beyond our school gates and I regularly mentor and coach other teachers in my community, hosting regular events that aim to extend teaching and learning in STEM subjects.
My work with CQ University means that I can actively see the onward benefit of my work. I provide a weekly tutorial to pre-service teachers about the applications of STEM in an everyday classroom. I try to make these sessions practical and dynamic. I believe that equipping these teachers with skills and urging them to foster and grow capable and courageous citizens within their classroom walls is important work. How else are we to ensure Queenslanders of the future will be innovative and creative citizens with access to a suite of practical skills that will allow them to solve the challenges of the future?
I work with local schools to ensure that teachers in my area have an understanding of STEM as a vital part of any student’s future. This means supporting other teachers as they take on the mantle of teaching coding and robotics. It means collaborating with teachers who want to insert some emerging technologies within their existing programs. Adapting units to include more authentic opportunities to collect and collate data, and allowing students to explore the how and why of the phenomena they are observing can be time consuming, but are ultimately the most important part of our learning. I enjoy inviting professionals into our schools - they show students the Science that exists all around them. Visiting experts have become a large part of annual events and are always well received. I have facilitated visits from local First Nations experts, artists, chefs (specialising in molecular chemistry), farmers and people with disability (to share the technologies that have improved their quality of life).
Taking students out and finding experiences and opportunities that suit particular learners is a challenge I relish! This includes looking at automation at local farm sites, visits to high school labs and supporting entry into entrepreneurial challenges.
Working together with outside groups and communities is a great way to ensure that the learners of today become the leaders of tomorrow – with a balanced outlook on the way that challenges can be faced and how innovation can improve quality of life for those around them.
Since my arrival at Kalkie State School (in 2019), hundreds of students have benefitted from hand-picked, off-site STEM experiences catering to their individual needs. For some, this has been attendance at Engineering challenges, others it has meant coding and robotics programs or STEM focussed events. While the focus is always on the process of learning, rather than the product, in this time we have also been acknowledged as leaders in the field, with students taking away prizes in robotics, engineering and entrepreneurial pursuits.
On a data level, my STEM interventions in Science showed an increase in engagement and achievement. One project raised overall semester achievement for 40.5% of students. Following this project, teaching colleagues have made (and continue to make) modifications to Science programs, to include STEM strategies with results that mirror those of the initial pilot.
See also, an impact story here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcFxIQOrdrg
When I was a teenager, I loved Science – particularly chemistry. My grandfather had been a chemist, and studying the sciences was very rewarding for me. However, when it came time to pick a study area for university, I was dissuaded from choosing Science as a career, in spite of excellent marks across the Sciences and Maths. I instead chose a career in the arts, before making the switch to teaching. If there had been more women in Science, back then in the nineties, it might have been a different story for me.
Anecdotally, I notice lots of incentives in national programs – people searching for ways to involve more women in STEM. I feel that I have the key – girls are drawn to programs run by women. Unlike other schools, my robotics program is predominantly filled with girls. I believe this to be because they see me solving problems using coding and innovation and believe they can too. I don’t feel that it was any coincidence that my favourite of the sciences – chemistry – was taught by a female teacher.
On a personal level, I grew up a child of migrants in 80s/90s Australia. I was the first in my family to finish school, then the first to finish university. I supported myself financially as my family was unable to do so. I grew up in regional Australia where poverty was the norm. To be able to have broken free of that cycle and returned to inspire and support those who have come behind me remains a privilege and a source of great personal pride.
To that point, I ensure any programs I run are cost-free and welcoming of all students, regardless of their background. Nobody should be held back by their circumstance. I have been so lucky to receive grant money and in-kind support that allows me to be able to offer experiences to kids who live in quite challenging circumstance. It really is a work of heart.
I hope that when people look at me, they see a hard-working and resourceful woman – with generosity and kindness at her core. I am certainly so lucky to have been blessed with people around me that match that description, and I hope that in turn we are helping to grow so many more like them.
I have been a speaker at iEducate – presenting to a room with representatives of 85+ schools, showing how Digital Technologies (with a focus on code) can be taught anywhere, to students as young as four. Computational thinking is a skill that is taught in technologies but which can be applied anywhere and everywhere. I teach that it can be taught without the latest gadgets and gizmos and on a budget of nothing – if I can do it, anyone can!
I have also presented at the STEM Symposium run by EQ. My talk has been available on demand so I’m unsure of it’s final audience impact. Here I talked about harnessing Minecraft to teach biology, history and as a way to embed cultural understanding in communities such as ours.
In 2022 I presented my work at the Inspiring Queensland showcase – featuring that year’s Science Week event. The event had included a connection to country, looking at various local plants and their Indigenous names as well as molecular chemistry (with a visiting chef) and mosaic workshops run by artist Paul Perry. I also spoke at Engineers Australia (Queensland) end of year dinner. Here I shared how coding and robotics support other learning in a primary setting. I enjoyed sharing my work – and illustrating how even very young children have an interest and aptitude for problem solving and innovation.
My yearly Science Week events are always well received by community – featuring in our local newspapers (Bundaberg Today and Bundaberg Now). I have also written articles sharing my STEM programs – most recently being published in ACER’s Teacher Magazine. I am currently writing an article about STEM in the arts, following a year-long stint working to develop programs in Visual arts and Music.
Later this year I will be speaking at STAQ’s Science is Primary program, sharing how we have embedded Indigenous perspectives into our programming at school.