At Kildare College, STEM is taught as a core subject for all middle school students through to Year 9.

This is a dedicated subject, four lessons a week, that seeks to leverage the general capabilities of Critical and Creative Thinking and Personal and Social Capability. In short, it’s learning in context, with students exploring real world problems that require skills beyond textbooks and exams.

The cornerstone of Kildare’s STEM program is our approach to project-based learning (PBL), which was recently exemplified with our inaugural STEM Fair.

This public presentation of a student’s project creates a higher standard of work, allows discussion among peers and opens the school to the wider community.

The STEM Fair included a ‘Pop Up Arcade’ featuring video games coded by students, a drone exhibition and a Flinders University presentation on nanotechnology; however, the main event of the STEM Fair was the Year 9 cohort presenting their Semester 1 major project.

Tasked to design a device to help someone with limited mobility, students had to research and investigate a disability or device of their choice.

This freedom allowed students to choose a topic of their own interest or for someone they knew. This provided a diverse range of topics including a bottle opener for arthritis suffers, writing aids for children and a dog collar to help blind canines.

Once students had investigated their topic, they followed an engineering design process to establish success criteria, design concepts, create prototypes and evaluate designs in a continuous cycle until a final solution was ready to present.

Students leveraged skills in computer-aided design, 3D printing, concept design, prototyping and engineering principals learnt from their previous studies in STEM.

During the expo the projects were set up in a trade show format with students standing by their final prototype and posters, explaining how their design solved the intended problem.

Year 8 students were invited to listen to their presentation and vote for designs across the categories of ‘most creative’, ‘most functional’ and ‘salesmanship’.

Year 8 students were provided guiding questions to help determine their vote, such as ‘what scientific principal does your design use?, ‘how does it solve the intended problem?’, or ‘why should I vote for your design’?

Year 9 students quickly realised that a good design alone cannot guarantee a vote, with many learning the importance of marketing their ideas when answering questions.

While the concept of a public presentation of work was used to raise the quality of student projects, it also plants an important seed in the younger students who witnessed, discussed and voted on the designs.

The Year 8 students came to the STEM Fair knowing it will be them who will present their work in 12 months’ time.

The questions provided to the Year 8s served to not only guide their vote, but to help formulate an image of the resilient learners we wish to create. 

Questions such as ‘what problems did you overcome?’ and ‘how many prototypes did you create?’ allow the younger students to see how our engineering design process is used to learn and evaluate from our mistakes. Students see that learning is a journey of grit and perseverance.

Our pedagogy in PBL and public presentations of work is guided by our recent professional development with the Buck Institute for Education.

We use PBL through our STEM program to create student choice, increase student responsibility, embed real world authenticity and to increase digital literacy.

Providing real world problems which students need to solve increases the opportunity to apply deep knowledge that text books and exams could never inspire.