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Back to the drawing board: A different approach to STEM education

As participation in STEM subjects in secondary and tertiary schools declines, the search is on to find new ways to engage students in science studies.

Enrolments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in secondary and tertiary education have declined over the past 10 years. It is no wonder, given studies have also shown declining interest in STEM in schools over the secondary years.

Engagement is essential to change students’ attitudes to STEM and encourage them to continue STEM study in senior secondary school and university.

Drawing students into science

ACER’s Research Conference 2016 focuses on the significant challenges and some possible solutions in promoting improved STEM learning in our schools.

‘If we are to engage students with thinking/reasoning and working scientifically, we need to align classroom practices more authentically with the knowledge building, or epistemic practices of science,’ said Russell Tytler, Professor of Science Education at Deakin University.

Professor Tytler, who will be speaking at Research Conference 2016 on this topic, suggests drawing is a key activity in helping students engage with science.

‘The science that students engage with should demonstrate the nature of science as it works in the world,’ Professor Tytler said.

‘Because science is so often visual and spatial in nature, drawing is a key activity, alongside modelling, role-play and digital simulation.’

It’s not just the drawing itself that must be considered. Drawing tasks must be aligned with real-world use of science, Professor Tytler said.

‘Drawings are a powerful focus for collaborative reasoning and generation of meaning, provided the task is matched to a joint purpose and students are appropriately scaffolded,’ Professor Tytler said.

STEM and game design

This reasoning is behind many programs and initiatives designed to engage students in STEM subjects. ACER’s Australian STEM Video Game Challenge and the International Mathematical Modeling Challenge (IM2C) are two examples.

Many of the skills students develop in creating a video game for the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge involve the kinds of iterative problem solving, modelling and collaborative reasoning that Professor Tytler describes.

Liam Hensel, Project Director of the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge, said the Challenge is designed to develop skills and engagement with STEM through fun, creativity, problem-solving and ingenuity.

‘It also shows how STEM have applications beyond a laboratory and outside a textbook,’ he said.

Ross Turner, Project Director of the IM2C, said drawing, sketching and other forms of visual representation are useful ways for students to work out the problem they are trying to solve.

‘Mathematical modelling is used in many walks of life to employ mathematical tools and knowledge to describe and analyse situations in the real world, and helps students to see how STEM applies in the real world.’ ■

Further information:

Professor Russell Tytler and Ross Turner will be speaking at Research Conference 2016 on the theme ‘Improving STEM Learning: What will it take?’ from 7 to 9 August at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Read Professor Russell Tytler’s article, ‘Re-imagining Science Education: Engaging students in science for Australia’s future’, in ACER’s Australian Education Review No. 51.

Learn more about ACER’s Australian STEM Video Game Challenge.

Learn more about ACER’s International Mathematical Modeling Challenge.

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