Delegates at the conference were, as it turned out, mainly secondary science and mathematics teachers searching for answers on how to do this thing called STEM in their classrooms.
There were other participants at the conference, including early years and primary school teachers, principals, and education sector managers including subject based consultants from school systems across Australia.
After listening to various presenters from science fields in universities and industry there were commercial businesses selling apps/devices for STEM – these were offered as solutions to delivering effective STEM teaching and learning in schools.
Many schools do not have funds for the latest hardware/tech software.
This is a real issue that perhaps some sectors of the business community do not fully understand.
Many tech companies are doing pro bono work in schools, but I would like to see many more ‘step up to the table’ to support schools and teachers in their STEM endeavours.
STEM resources are often expensive.
I am uncertain, for example, how factual recall apps for STEM have a place in school education – there is the internet?
Perhaps with further development such applications could be set up as problem-based … anyway, that is a discussion for another time.
There is good news.
Rich and free STEM + STEAM
(with A for the Arts) resources exist in our public institutions.
At STEM places, for example, like Science Gallery Melbourne.
Rose Hiscock, inaugural director of the gallery, spoke about her vision for the inventive venue for science and art collaboration in the heart of Melbourne’s innovation precinct.
In Sydney, the Museum of the Applied Arts and Social Sciences is another site that is firmly focused on providing classroom ready, curriculum-linked and creative STEM platforms.
ABC Splash and Scootle are other websites that have easily accessible, authoritative STEM resources that are found through site searches by subject and stage of learning.
Professional resources for STEM learning, and those listed here are ‘just a taste’ of what is available right now.
Gaps remain in STEM teacher professional learning.
In NSW, the Department of Education has a series of STEM projects set up in primary and secondary school communities.
These local projects are assisting in real ways.
Moreover, building primary school teachers’ confidence and capacity in STEM is an area of development identified in the December 2015 position paper from the Office of the Chief Scientist: STEM knowledge is dynamic … teachers must be supported to keep pace with change, and to keep their knowledge up to date amidst the day-to-day pressures of the classroom.
A new STEM project using action-learning cycles in six NSW public primary schools is designed to address this recognised need.
Nineteen teachers who teach the final years of primary schooling are participating and they are using the High Possibility Classrooms (HPC) framework.
This pedagogical framework has five knowledge conceptions of technology-enhanced learning: theory, creativity, pubic learning, life preparation and contextual accommodations.
To begin, each teacher’s concerns are mapped against a validated survey tool that will be used again at the study completion.
After an initial HPC workshop teachers use their learning to work in small teams to design STEM lessons/units of work.
Teachers will be interviewed and observed teaching STEM lessons in the classroom, analysis of documents from the STEM lessons will occur and focus groups will be conducted with students in the teachers’ classrooms.
This kind of professional learning partnership is another way to build teacher capacity and confidence in STEM; ensuring that professional capital in STEM teaching and learning grows within the school context.
Such approaches are highly suitable approaches for secondary schools, too.