Prof Lyn Beazley AO, former Chief Scientist of Western Australia.
Sir David Attenborough once said that every child loves nature; I am sure he is right. And more than that, I believe every young person is fascinated by science. Their curiosity and passion for discovery and hands-on exploration finds a natural outlet in the inquiry-driven endeavours of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Young people and STEM professionals alike want to understand the world around and beyond them, from the worms in the garden to the wonders of space, and all the associated possibilities. It is for this reason that I spearheaded a program that to date has supplied microscopes to more than 600 primary schools in Australia. The students and teachers love it. I am also privileged to be the patron of the very well-received techtrails program that takes STEM professionals into secondary school classrooms. Seventy-five per cent of the new jobs created in Australia over the next 10 years are predicted to be in STEM (with 40 per cent of existing jobs disappearing in this period), so it is a key message to share.
STEM is key not only to our economic prosperity but also to our environmental, social and cultural wellbeing, and it is teachers who are crucial to advancing STEM capability in Australia’s classrooms.
Through the STEM X Academy, ASTA, Questacon and CSIRO have created this innovative program, resources, networks and methods to realise a greater potential in classrooms, both primary and secondary. Anchored by its annual STEM X professional development program for teachers, this unique initiative receives support from world-class laboratories and technology companies within the Australian innovation matrix.
Teachers are empowered to structure their classrooms as laboratories for STEM-authentic problem-solving, creating a portal to the dynamic, multidisciplinary, inquiry-driven world of Australia’s research community. Furthermore, the STEM X Academy plays a pivotal role in drawing on the current national research effort, and assists teachers in placing the Australian science curriculum in the context of students’ lives, experiences and aspirations.
Direct encounters with scientists and with high-end research activities allow teachers to address their appetite for science content. Teachers acquire a contemporary context and the skill and confidence to introduce teaching methods that better resonate with their students’ learning. The teachers become innovators who are able to generate and share STEM-relevant projects that capture the imagination of students. STEM X alumni are proving they can make ‘school science’ relevant, tangible, fascinating and inspiring.
STEM IS KEY NOT ONLY TO OUR ECONOMIC PROSPERITY BUT ALSO TO OUR ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL WELLBEING, AND IT IS TEACHERS WHO ARE CRUCIAL TO ADVANCING STEM CAPABILITY IN AUSTRALIA’S CLASSROOMS.
Another unique focus of the STEM X Academy is to help teachers see firsthand that STEM is a multifaceted and multidisciplined approach to problem-solving: solving problems that have real impacts on people’s lives. ‘School science’ could include, for example, the use of engineering in medicine – a good example is the bionic ear – or the application of biological principles of neural networks in the design of state-of-the-art computers.
Science breaks down barriers, transcends boundaries and transforms possibilities. It is precisely this transformative step that the STEM X Academy strives to make possible in the classroom. It does so by nurturing higher-order problem-solving, the ultimate and desired outcome for future generations of Australians. Our best resource is our young people; we must give them every chance to succeed.