While we hear a lot about how the jobs of the future will need capability in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), don’t be alarmed if your child is not headed for a path of IT, algebra and molecular chemistry.
A STEM education is not an either/or choice between ‘hard’ subjects like physics and coding and ‘soft’ subjects like languages, history and art.
Instead, as one school in Melbourne is showing, STEM will be a holistic part of our children’s future, no matter what their path.
At Melbourne Girls Grammar School, STEM is integrated into student learning experiences all the way through from the Early Learning years to Year 12.
“From kindergarten to Year 4, we take a strong enquiry- based approach,” explains the school’s Director of STEM, Ivan Carlisle. “Our aim in those years is to invoke and nourish the joy of STEM. We engage students in quite authentic projects, many of them digital but others with a broader range. We have a hands-on focus. For example, in Terms 3 and 4 last year, three Year 3 girls built a hutch for the school’s pet lizard, Spikey Morris.”
Buying materials with the proceeds of the produce they had grown and sold in Year 2 at the school’s farmers market, and incorporating a recycled wooden seat from the grounds, the girls designed a portable hutch with wet and dry areas. A highlight was learning to use a drill.
“In the Middle Years (Years 5-8), our presentation of STEM becomes infused with notions of good citizenship and social impact. We start to ask: what initiatives can positively impact the world? This outward-looking theme ties in with our mission of developing ‘Ethical Women of Action’.”
“At this stage, it’s important to engage students with a very broad notion of STEM, one that is connected with society,” says Ivan. “Many girls are intrinsically motivated by the technical aspects of STEM subjects, whereas others may be more inspired by exploring the environmental, social and ethical aspects of STEM – its impact on the world, and the ways it can be used for good.”
In the Senior Years, the school shifts the STEM emphasis to the girls’ individual pathways. In Year 9, every girl meets with the school’s Enterprise Manager to develop a personal Enterprise Profile. This forms the basis for a range of opportunities to interact with businesses and industry sectors, such as solving real-world problems for businesses who then give feedback, attending Career Inspiration internships, and meeting with visiting entrepreneurs who share their setbacks and successes with the students.
Late last year, two teams of Year 10s and VCE Algorithmics competed against professionals in the Smart Cities Blockchain Hackathon. Blockchain is a transformative new system of record-keeping or data collection that is essentially transparent, uncontrolled by any one entity and immutable, and so it delivers trust. Hosted by the Blockchain Association of Australia, the three-day event tasked competing teams with solving problems of today’s cities with smart technology. To prepare, the MGGS teams worked with the Blockchain Learning Group (“blockchain education for developers by developers”) and local blockchain developers.
And their solutions?
One of the MGGS teams created a Decentralised Application (DApp) called Peak Medical Insurance, allowing communities to run their own private health insurance funds. Health payments and claims are facilitated by smart contracts programmed on the Ethereum blockchain and claim verification is facilitated through a combination of technology and community engagement.
A second MGGS team built a voting DApp, called ‘My Say’, that allows ‘direct democracy’ where the public votes directly on issues, instead of our current system of representative democracy where it votes for politicians who then vote on issues. As a result, people feel they have a much stronger voice.
Millie Perkins, 2018 School Captain, who participated in the Hackathon, says “the most enjoyable aspect about the Hackathon was to connect our understanding of the technology with a real-life purpose. It was great to discuss the potential of this technology for cities like Melbourne with government and industry professionals. I’m now really interested in emerging technologies like blockchain.”
This month at the APAC Blockchain Conference in Melbourne, a number of students including Millie will present alongside Ivan, on the topic of ‘Our Future: Emerging Technologies and Young Minds’.
“It’s a great experience for the girls,” says Ivan. “Connecting with real-world players in industry, sharing their experiences and aspirations, talking with business people about issues that businesses themselves are only just beginning to get their heads around – it’s as good as a STEM experience gets. It can be life-changing for students after presenting in that setting.”
At MGGS notions of citizenship and entrepreneurship are very important. It’s not that STEM overrides the liberal arts, social sciences, and creative arts – it makes them ever more relevant.
STEM is enthralling from many perspectives, says Ivan. “Things like Artificial Intelligence, blockchain– there is a lot to unpack in a technical sense and that can be fascinating. However, these technologies are also disrupting society significantly. What we ask our students is this: How can we integrate these technologies so they serve the common good? So that the world becomes better, and not usurped by these technologies?”
STEM is not just the traditional ‘hard sciences’, he points out. “It permeates many areas – arts, policy-making, and more. Historians are using machine-learning to aid their work, for example. And STEM practitioners need ‘soft’ skills too, like creative thinking and communication.”
“We aim to give the girls confidence in dealing with technology, but that could mean taking it to all kinds of different settings. It’s important they feel comfortable that STEM can be part of whatever their career choice is, that it doesn’t have to dominate what they’re doing. At MGGS notions of citizenship and entrepreneurship are very important. It’s not that STEM overrides the liberal arts, social sciences, and creative arts – it makes them ever more relevant. A framework in the humanities is absolutely essential – it gives us the knowledge of how and why we are doing STEM in the first place. You can’t consider it in isolation. Whenever we can, we emphasise to the girls that STEM is an important part of a much broader education. The acronym of STEM + X embodies that philosophy. The ‘X’ is whatever your passion is. It might be a detailed area of STEM, it might be history or literature or sport. STEM isn’t just for STEM’s sake.”