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Taking STEM learning to remote communities

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The Aboriginal Education Program (AEP) allows Scitech to bring STEM experiences to some of the most remote communities across Western Australia, and indeed the world.

Delivered with support from Rio Tinto, the AEP aims to increase awareness and interest of Aboriginal students in STEM, and to build the confidence and capacity of their educators in delivering STEM lessons. The program’s student workshops use culturally appropriate teaching and learning tools and practices to allow the science communicators to first connect with the students, and then introduce science in a relatable and meaningful way.

These hands-on workshops were revised and improved at the beginning of 2023 and focus on the development of science enquiry skills and enabling student agency in experimenting and exploring science concepts. The AEP travelled throughout the Pilbara region in May, visiting communities only a few weeks after cyclone Ilsa passed through the area. As a result, one activity was a challenge to build a small-scale house to withstand a cyclone using a hairdryer and spray bottle. The students saw the direct relevance of this activity to their lives and enjoyed the sense of ownership that came with building something of their own.

The AEP’s Professional Learning workshops showcase the value of using STEM as a cross curricular learning tool that builds capabilities in students across various subject areas including literacy and numeracy. The AEP introduced a new engineering focused Professional Learning workshop in 2023. During the one-hour workshop, teachers and Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers (AIEOs) explore four engineering- based activities, and are provided with resources and guides on how to deliver and link activities to the curriculum. Provided free of charge, these workshops equip teachers and AIEOs with increased confidence to teach STEM skills through hands-on engineering activities.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions preventing Scitech travelling to communities in 2022, the AEP pivoted to an online mode of delivery to ensure students and teachers were still able to access STEM opportunities. This included launching a new Virtual STEM Challenge component in July 2022 – the Ball Run Challenge. Students from 35 regional schools were challenged to use materials found around the classroom, their surrounding environment and resources provided in kits by Scitech to build a series of contraptions to set a ball in motion. The challenge was designed using the YESTEM Equity Compass to ensure it matched the specific learning needs of Aboriginal students. This included creating broad goals without setting low expectations, celebrating the successes of all students and using an engineering activity as Aboriginal students often excel at creativity and kinesthetics.

A Ball Run Challenge was chosen as it is adaptable and accessible to all year levels and encourages collaboration, creativity and resilience among the students. This was shown to be successfully achieved when the schools were requested to submit videos showing their Ball Run Challenges with a number of videos sent from regional schools showing the varied ages of students participating as well as the enthusiasm with which they engaged in the task. A compilation of these videos was created and shared with all participating schools, allowing students to feel connected to other students doing the same challenge. The outcomes were celebrated by displaying them on the digital wall in the entrance to the Scitech Discovery Centre for most of the 22-23 financial year.

The success of the Ball Run Challenge has led to the Virtual STEM Challenge becoming a permanent part of the AEP. In June 2023, a Foley Art challenge was virtually launched with students tasked to create sound effects for a short animation created by Scitech called Camp Dog’s Day.

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