The conference, supported by MAWA (the Mathematical Association of Western Australia), is held over three days and brings together a range of institutions and stakeholders who are focused on improving student outcomes in STEM education.
Few people would dispute the notion that STEM is important for preparing students for an increasingly information-based and technological society.
According to the PwC report A Smart Move, 44 per cent of Australian jobs are at risk from digital disruption over the coming 20 years; and improving student outcomes in STEM education is critical to future-proofing our economy.
The first step, according to Whitney-Smith, is ensuring that educators agree on what STEM education actually means.
“We’re hoping to ... get a common message out to all the organisations and the different sectors over here, the WA education departments as well as the Catholic education and independent schools, that we’re all talking about the same thing when we’re talking about STEM education.”
Whitney-Smith believes that there is a tendency to focus on the technology itself rather than the pedagogical benefit these resources can provide.
“There needs to be some kind of thinking process being developed in what [students] are doing, otherwise ... they’re playing with a resource and not actually benefiting from the activity.”
While technological literacy will be important for tomorrow’s workforce, the jobs of the future will require employees to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.
A STEM curriculum that encourages students to develop these skills is essential to prepare them for the changing nature of the workplace in the decades to come.
Whitney-Smith has been impressed with the positive response to the conference from industry stakeholders across a range of sectors, such as Bankwest, Synergy, Woodside and Texas instruments.
“They’re willing to support this because they can see the greater picture,” Whitney-Smith says. Keynote speakers will include: David Joyce, global head of projects and innovation at Rio Tinto; and associate professor of mathematics education at the university of Sydney, Judy Anderson.