Dr Stuart Kohlhagen, Director of Science and Learning, Questacon
For 30 years, Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre has been inspiring and engaging all Australians in science and technology by providing experiences based around interactive, hands-on learning activities.
Over time these activities have changed as Questacon is continuously innovating and experimenting in order to best meet the needs of the participants.
As Australia transitions from a manufacturing and resource-driven economy to one based on innovation fuelled by science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Questacon’s ability to work across formal and informal learning sectors is more relevant than ever. At Questacon, we view science teachers as fundamental to fostering a society with greater engagement with science and a future where STEM is recognised as central to our wellbeing and prosperity.
We do, however, see a need for professional learning activities that not only improve science teachers’ confidence, but also create links with science research and, ultimately, provide motivation for teachers to become their own change-agents.
With the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA), Questacon found a partner with the same vision of providing teachers of science with high-quality professional learning opportunities. The success of the inaugural STEM X Academy has been built on the platform of Questacon’s experience in delivering inquiry-learning skills and ASTA’s knowledge of teachers’ needs.
With the STEM X Academy, we focused on building participants’ skill base. It would have been easy to provide the teachers with a strong science experience in Canberra – a city of science containing CSIRO, three research universities and numerous research and development organisations. Instead we chose to build the five-day residential program around hands-on sessions delivered by Questacon staff at the Ian Potter Foundation Technology Learning Centre.
STEM X Academy is built around three main themes: building skills so teachers can develop their own inquiry-based learning activities for the classroom; demonstrating how these activities link to real-world science and technology; and creating relationships between the teachers who would continue to share resources, knowledge and inspiration after the residential program had finished.
To that end, the STEM X Academy functions as the initial catalyst for an alumni-driven community that is equipped to pursue innovation in the science classroom in a self-perpetuating process, with ongoing commitment from both Questacon and ASTA and support from the participating science and technology partners.
The STEM X Academy is also a multiplier, with participants supported to share their experiences and new skills within their own schools. It may be by providing an experiment to demonstrate efficient photosynthesis or how to build a pop-up science centre in a school; the aim is to inspire other teachers.
At Questacon we truly believe that to create inspired and engaged students you need to inspire and engage teachers. The STEM X Academy exists to achieve precisely that. Questacon’s skilled staff, working in partnership with the leadership team at ASTA, has created a program that is more than the sum of its parts. The partnership will continue to grow and we look forward to continuing the journey with ASTA and science teachers across Australia.