ACER Improving STEM Learning. What does it take?

Brisbane Convention Centre

August

Opened by Simon Birmingham who outlined current government’s policy positions on STEM with a very strong economic imperative evident. He listed a number of highly funded initiatives all aimed to increase number of high qualified STEM university graduates and more candidates for the tertiary level course that prepare them for these roles. No mention of the moral imperative to prepare our young people for a world where they will need to be able to make informed, ethical decisions related to their environment, health and futures and those of others. Little mention of the Grattan Institute report that indicated growing numbers of science & engineering graduates not gaining employment and how universities may need to consider their role in preparing their students for gainful employment in ever changing word. Instead students should view their 1st degree as the base for the 2nd Oh well did I realistically expect that to be the case?

Pauline Hoyle UK

Pauline altered us to the learnings from UK work in STEM. Much to learn you would think but alarmingly we seem not to be learning I must say…. The EBacc in particular seemed to have significant implications for how schools are held publically accountable for their student’s progress.

Anyway work of the National Science Learning Network continues to impress. This network has grown with a planned expansion beyond the university based centres such as the one in York University, to include centres based in schools and with a focus on providing continuous professional learning programs for science educators. She did however caution that determining the impact of professional learning on learning outcomes is a challenge. There are a number of reports that could prove informative. Her advice was to look for the “multiplier effective” ie don’t go with just one approach but look to build on opportunities and maintain a sustained approach to PL.

The debate over what STEM is exactly was raised by Pauline and continued to be a point of discussion throughout the 2 days with numerous presenters and participants searching for the definitive description. Not an easy call as for many it will be context specific.

Over the 2 days I attended 3 sessions to hear about research being undertaken in the area of STEM learning. However it was soon apparent that the findings of this research were not always clear, and at times not presented in such a way that the many teachers present could easily interpret for their work which it became obvious was something they were seeking from the conference. In fact some of the research was not specifically about STEM learning which for some made it even more disappointing. However for me it became apparent where the gaps are in this area of education research. As both Russell Tytler & Peter Taylor indicated during the Panel session there is still much to be done including knowing what to ask in order to guide and support educators, school leaders & those seeking to influence system level change. From my perspective there is a clear need for joint research, practitioners and academics working together. The only example of this was Prof Martin Westell, Flinders Uni & Sonia Cooke, Morphett Vale PS. There is much to gain from co-designing the research focus/question, methods and analysis of data along with reporting and sharing findings with other educators using a language and an application that is meaningful to those working in the field.

My take-aways are many:

  • One-off programs may not be all bad, eg for some students this may be the chance to expose them to something new and engaging outside their usual experience
  • The significance of collaboration, within industry, commercial world as well as in education. I was reminded of Wenger’s work on Communities of Practice and how important it is to enable our staff to work at the boundaries of their profession and to support them to interpret learnings from this experience into their team work of designing learning and assessment approaches. Collabronauts…my new favourite word!!
  • Capabilities are the key to our work in STEM. How can we value them more highly, support students and their families to see the value of developing more than just the AC General Capabilities. What about entrepreneurial thinking and skills, adaptability, identify problems and seek innovative responses
  • F=E most important equation. Future = Education!! Thank you Geoff Garrett, chief scientist Queensland
  • Learners need to be at table for all of our work… how can we make this a reality?

So what now?

  • ASMS is in a unique position to think deeply about the interdisciplinarity of STEM, how to do it effectively, consider it’s importance/significance, what should be assessed and how to do that.
  • Our work in PATE needs to progress, how can we lead this important work in SA with Universities, SACE and other schools!
  • Assessing what really matters in our interdisciplinary curriculum design
  • Can we strengthen our work with DECD in Learning & Assessment Design as well as in C&C Thinking not to mention ASMS role in the Preschool-Year 12 STEM Strategy.
  • 2016 ASMS Learning Forward Conf : staff pitch their pedagogy ideas to students and seek their feedback on where to next, inviting them to work with us as co-researchers in 2017
  • Should we be go one step further with our curriculum design and seek to work with ACARA or SACE in designing a STEM “subject” or in case of ACARA STEM learning design materials to share with others working to “improve STEM Learning”?
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