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Scitech During COVID-19

Scitech’s commitment to innovative and contemporary STEM engagement remains strong in challenging times.

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When COVID-19 restrictions were introduced by the Western Australian Government, all Scitech’s public engagements were put on hold. The Science Centre closed, school incursions were cancelled, as were tours to regional and remote Aboriginal communities, and professional learning programs suspended.

Scitech’s mission is to increase awareness, interest, capability and participation by all Western Australians in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). With WA’s population at home under lock-down conditions, it became critical for Scitech to find a way to keep our community connected to STEM.

Within a week, “Scitech at Home” was launched. A suite of podcasts, videos, live-streaming, do-it-yourself experiments, explosions and at-home challenges easily accessible through the Scitech website and social media channels.

The activities were designed for parents to do at home with their younger children, or for older children to do themselves and guide their own learning. Using easily found objects with straight forward explanations and visually enticing presentations, the response from the community was immediate and positive.

In the first two months alone, 1200 new people clicked ‘follow’ on Scitech’s Facebook page, 150 on Instagram, 130 on YouTube and 75 on LinkedIn. On the Scitech website, session duration was up by 19%, reaching an average time of two minutes.

Comments from parents on Facebook included “Experiment done! We want more!”, “Awesome. Love this, what a fantastic visual experiment”, “Very interesting experiment and very clearly explained”, “My science loving son is enjoying your videos”, “We tried this experiment at home with great success. Thanks for all the videos, the kids are loving them while in ISO” and “Thank you for such brilliant stuff”.

As COVID-19 restrictions impacted school attendance and program delivery, Scitech’s team of professional learning consultants didn’t miss a beat, embracing digital delivery of their programs as soon as it was possible. Their digital solutions proved so successful for teachers and students, they will now offer this channel alongside face-to-face to deepen their ongoing engagement with schools.

The Alcoa Champions of Maths program aims to develop the classroom methods of primary school teachers over a year of intensive in-person coaching. When social distancing restrictions were introduced, Shyam Drury, Scitech’s Maths Multiplier, onboarded his 2020 cohort of teachers via phone, email and a dedicated Microsoft 365 Teams channel. During Term 2, Shyam conducted 16 coaching and observation sessions via Teams, where teachers uploaded recordings of their lessons for feedback.

The teachers have responded positively, with comments including “Thanks for your feedback – it is really working!” and “You should’ve seen my kids in problem solving today… they’ve really got the hang of it.”

Tim Schmitz, Professional Learning Consultant, delivers the Mitsui Future Computing program in the Pilbara, working with one focus school per year to develop student and teacher capacity in ICT and Digital Technologies. Typically, Tim would visit the school for one intensive week every term. In Term 2, attendance levels had returned to almost normal levels at the school, and so Tim kicked off the 2020 program remotely with an updated delivery schedule of 1 session per week, spreading out the same hours of engagement across shorter but more regular video conference lessons.

Using a combination of Webex, Facetime, YouTube, Zoom and Seesaw, Tim and classroom teachers worked together to set up two video links on two different screens simultaneously, which enabled Tim to speak to the class directly, and also show hands-on demonstrations of the Raspberry Pi educational computing kits used in the program.

Students were extremely positive and quickly adapted to the experience. They regularly asked questions and comments showed the level of fun they were having as they learned: “Amazing!”, “That was so fun”, “Really cool”. This set-up went beyond simple video-conferencing and shows the level of innovation that can make remote engagement successful, demonstrating agile new capabilities in response to uniquely challenging times.

Scitech’s GT program, supported by Woodside, nurtures the existing STEM passion of gifted and talented students by connecting them with STEM role models at events in the Science Centre throughout the year. In June, Shanii Phillips, GT program coordinator, organised Scitech’s first online GT event via Zoom. 49 students tuned in to the interactive talks with Dr Luke Davies from ICRAR, Conrad Pires from Space Hub Perth and Kyle Saltmarsh and Chanel De Pledge from Woodside.

Participants were highly responsive to this new format, with one student commenting “I liked how the guest speakers were varied, and I enjoyed that everyone’s questions were answered whether live or typed, since it was permanently there on a chat.”

Scitech’s commitment to providing exceptional STEM engagement to the Western Australian community never faltered during all phases of COVID restrictions. As guidance from the WA Department of Health went through successive updates to ensure the health and safety of the people of Western Australia, Scitech staff constantly adapted to stay connected.

As we look forward to further easing of restrictions, bookings for Statewide’s school engagement programs are already reaching well into Term 3 in both Perth and regionally. The Learning Futures team will resume all professional learning programs, combining school visits with digital delivery. And after a sold-out first week, the Science Centre will continue to provide stimulating, multi-sensory STEM learning experiences to its valued visitors.

As Einstein once said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”. And at Scitech, opportunity means the ability to instil the STEM skills and knowledge that will positively impact the future of this state and its people.

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