Eighteen months ago our community collaboratively designed this ambitious vision for our school to take us through the next four years: Empowering our community of learners to create a legacy which redefines our world.

Our school now finds itself in a position where we need to take the next step towards achieving this vision for all of our learners. One of the best ways forward is to place the development of a STEM agenda as a firm priority.

What is STEM? And why will it support our way forward? Is it simply another educational acronym that combines learning areas? Does it merely promote ‘integration’ as a means of reaching outcomes across learning areas? Or is a new way of looking at learning where the focus lies on the processes and thinking rather than the content? Is it, in fact, a way of empowering our students to prepare them for an uncertain future, allowing them to redefine our world?

There were only two clear goals that were recommended by The Melbourne Declaration, agreed to by all our State Education Ministers in 2008 as a means of successfully moving our young Australians towards an uncertain future:

Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence

Goal 2: All young Australians become: – successful learners – confident and creative individuals – active and informed citizens.

Unpacking Goal 2 gives us a more extensive understanding of the depth of this imperative:

Successful Learners:

  • develop their capacity to learn and play an active role in their own learning –
  • have the essential skills in literacy and numeracy and
  • are creative and productive users of technology, especially ICT, as a foundation for success in all learning areas –
  • are able to think deeply and logically, and obtain and evaluate evidence in a disciplined way as the result of studying fundamental disciplines –
  • are creative, innovative and resourceful, and are able to solve problems in ways that draw upon a range of learning areas and disciplines
  • – are able to plan activities independently, collaborate, work in teams and communicate ideas –
  • are able to make sense of their world and think about how things have become the way they are –
  • are on a pathway towards continued success in further education, training or employment, and
  • acquire the skills to make informed learning and employment decisions throughout their lives –
  • are motivated to reach their full potential.

Confident and Creative Learners:

  • have a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing –
  • have a sense of optimism about their lives and the future – are enterprising, show initiative and use their creative abilities –
  • develop personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience, empathy and respect for others –
  • have the knowledge, skills, understanding and values to establish and maintain healthy, satisfying lives
  • have the confidence and capability to pursue university or post-secondary vocational qualifications leading to rewarding and productive employment –
  • relate well to others and form and maintain healthy relationships –
  • are well prepared for their potential life roles as family, community and workforce members –
  • embrace opportunities, make rational and informed decisions about their own lives and accept responsibility for their own actions.

Our department views STEM as integral to moving forward and have given clear directions about the possible ways of implementing STEM and a mandate for certain curriculum areas to be fully implemented by 2020.

To understand the imperative to move towards a STEM mindset, one must think about the skills that we are constantly being told are the ones that are going to be necessary to ensure success in the future world of work. There have been numerous reports that have emerged over the last 10 years to seek to identify those skills. Whilst they differ with their findings, there are also important commonalities that assist us to understand the importance of creativity, innovation, problem-solving, collaboration and the purposeful use of technology.

In the study by Sue Beers, 21st Century Skills: Preparing Students for THEIR Future, she compiles the skills:

The video below, although focused on America, reinforces the way STEM supports the above skills:

So, what is STEM and what does it mean for our community?

STEM is focussed on solving real problems.  STEM learning follows lines of inquiry. STEM can be multi-disciplinary and the best STEM learning usually is. STEM places the students in active learning situations.  STEM requires of students that they use their content knowledge in productive ways and that they connect this learning to the world around them. Students will often work together, challenging each other to consider the problem and the solution.

A quote from the above article by Sue Beers:

S.T.E.M. curriculum incorporates the “four C’s” of 21st century skills: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Students work together to create innovative solutions to real-world problems and communicate their solutions with others. As they carry out their investigations and projects, they must access, analyze, and use the information they need to complete the learning tasks. While working through the task, students build important life and career skills by learning to manage their time, to become self-directed workers and to collaborate effectively with others. Using appropriate technology tools to complete their task, students discover the most effective and efficient ways to access and manage the world of digital information that is available to them. “Digital natives” find a S.T.E.M. classroom an inviting and challenging environment that incorporates their need to be interactive participants in their learning.

As a school, we have done a lot of great work already. We have talented teachers, a passionate community and we have made strategic steps with the Digital Technologies Curriculum.  The next steps are key to working towards a learning environment that is supportive of our learners’ futures with a focus on a STEM mindset, toolset and skill-set.

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