Mary Mulcahy, Director, CSIRO Education and Outreach

Australia’s largest patent holder – at more than 1800 patents – is not a university or corporation. Our biggest innovator is CSIRO, which was established to help realise national aspirations, track future trends and solve Australia’s biggest challenges.

Written into CSIRO’s founding principles is a mandate to build STEM capacity and train ongoing generations of innovators and problem-solvers. Through CSIRO Education and Outreach, director Mary Mulcahy uses real CSIRO science as a resource to inspire science teachers and their classroom practices.

“Teachers are really important,” she says. “Every day at CSIRO we see STEM applied to cutting-edge problems, but we asked ourselves, how can we apply that know-how to the classroom? Through the STEM X Academy, CSIRO scientists work alongside teachers to tie in the school curriculum to the vast and diverse research problems under investigation across CSIRO.”

For both ASTA and CSIRO, the STEM X model has created transformative synergies that inspire both the teachers and researchers to the benefit of both classrooms and CSIRO’s innovation system.

For teachers, they see the abstract concepts they teach at their whiteboards come alive, contextualised by CSIRO research programs as they deliver futuristic technological capacity and use it to probe the world from the atomic nanoscale up to the cosmological and across, physical, biological and socioeconomic domains.

Interactions with CSIRO scientists include problem-solving sessions that cultivate a greater confidence and enthusiasm for inquiry-based learning. Intellectually, the sessions are framed by CSIRO’s Our Future World report, which tracks the major drivers of future change and the most urgent emerging research problems.

These sessions see teachers apply concepts from the school curriculum to explore answers to vitally relevant issues: the coming scarcity of mineral, energy, water, and food resources; the diminishing integrity of natural habitats; impacts from an ageing population; global economic shifts; and the technological revolution in the way people connect.

Dr Carmel Pollino, who heads CSIRO’s Managing Water Ecosystems program, participated in the January 2017 STEM X workshop where she shared her experience developing lowcost water planning solutions to assist developing countries better deal with water scarcity. She found the experience so invigorating and inspirational that she insisted every scientist in her team commit to engaging with science teachers.

“There is something exciting about the synergy teachers and researchers generate when they work together,”

Ms Mulcahy says. “They inspire in each other a passion for learning, an enthusiasm for exploring new ideas and an excitement about the connections between classroom lessons and CSIRO research. Together they provide relevance and urgency to what is taught in the classroom.”