Musical Questions at Improving STEM Education

Representatives of STEM from schools all over Australia were bought together to play musical chairs, here is an overview of the solutions they’re currently exploring with their students.

What are we doing to reduce the gender gap in STEM?

Chair David Simpson, Head of Middle School Science at Haileybury, said that his young daughter loves maths, but it concerns him that something seems to happen in the course of a girl’s education that changes this. Approaches like more female role models are important, but one teacher suggested that we should simply be making more effort to ask girls ‘why’? We know we lose them in Physics and Maths around Year 9 – why don’t we allow them to speak freely on what deters them?

STEM vs. STEAM

One representative offered the idea that education should be ‘sans-disciplinary’. Above all else, we want our students to be university and employment ready. Being an excellent mathematician is wonderful, but it’s not necessarily the only skill you will need to become a contributing member of society. David Simpson shared one approach that has previously been suggested to him: maybe it shouldn’t be ‘STEM’, maybe it should just be ‘SCHOOL’.

How can we ensure flexibility in a content heavy curriculum?

Simultaneously delivering curriculum content and flexible learning can seem contradictory at times. Integrating content-heavy aspects with PBL all comes down to the teacher’s confidence in their subject matter. It’s a careful balance between delivering what’s required by the curriculum and knowing when to get out of the kids’ way.

What is the role of the T in STEM? A facilitator between the other areas? Or a focus on its own?

Time is always the biggest issue when trying to get teachers on board with technology education. However, it’s important to remember that technology isn’t just about ICT and robots, it’s a way of problem solving and a set of skills. Even a pencil is a piece of technology. Don’t be afraid to start with the basics, it’s the learning that’s important.

How can we improve the progression of students in STEM from primary into secondary?

Relationships between partner schools are crucial to the transition from primary to secondary. Secondary schools need communicate the skills they expect from new students, and primary schools can approach secondary teachers to share insights with their students. This relationship needs work and continuous development to be successful, but can have a great impact on how well students transition between the two.

How can you evolve your pedagogical practice to critical and creative thinking?

One primary school had a designated philosophy teacher who works with students on things like how to break down and analyse questions and how to agree and disagree. By the time the students get to Year 6, they’re already quite capable in this space. In secondary school however, creativity can be more challenging. Teachers can become overly focused on the end point they want the students to learn instead of allowing them to explore the questions themselves.

How can we increase the number of students studying maths at higher and advanced level?

The primary school experience of maths can often determine future potential. If students have a negative experience or don’t pick up the basics early on, there’s little chance of them progressing to an advanced level. We need to make maths relevant and interesting to children, and explore real-life applications. And don’t forget the students who have the necessary abilities but might be inclined to ‘play the ATAR game’ and take the easier subjects – they need to be nurtured and encouraged.