Sparking new STEM practices in Teacher Development Schools

STEM Innovation Partnerships

With Department of education, Western Australia

Nations around the world are turning their attention to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education as a means of addressing the diverse economic and social challenges they face in the 21st Century. In Australia, the need for graduates with the qualifications, skills and passion for STEM roles is rapidly increasing. A group of schools in Western Australia are working collaboratively to increase both achievement and engagement in STEM subjects – and to spread new practices across the state and beyond.

The problem

7% of Year 8 students

considered to be ‘advanced’ in maths and science, compared to 54% in Singapore

25% of Year 8 students

say they like science, and only 16% say they like maths

Lowest in 20 years

levels of participation in STEM subjects in Australian schools

44% of employers

report difficulties in recruiting workers with the necessary STEM qualifications

Jobs requiring science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills have grown at about 1.5 times the rate of other jobs in recent years, but around 44% of employers report difficulties in recruiting workers with the necessary STEM qualifications. Alongside this, advances in automation are seeing large numbers of low and medium-skilled roles disappear, and significant growth in areas that demand both high mathematics skills and high social skills. But, despite the growing demand for STEM skills from employers, Australian students are on the whole falling behind. In the 2012 PISA results, Australia ranked 19th in the world on maths performance and 16th in science.

“The 20-year slide in maths and science learning is a national challenge that ­requires a national response. We cannot afford another 20 years of stagnation. The answer is not to do more of the same.” Geoff Masters, Australian Council for Educational Research Chief Executive

How might we re-engage both learners and teachers in STEM? How can we ignite their interest, demonstrate relevance and connection, build new skills and increase participation and achievement throughout schooling and tertiary education?

The Department of Education in Western Australia believe that, if we are to increase participation and performance in STEM, we must find new ways to deeply engage students through the design of compelling new professional practices. Within Teacher Development School STEM Partnerships, schools are learning and working together on this issue, and also engaging a range of external partners.

Our impact

29 schools

collaborated in the first year on the design of innovative STEM learning practices

90% of schools

have seen their practice change as a result of engaging in the TDS STEM Innovation Partnerships

34 schools

joined the TDS STEM Innovation Partnerships in 2017

© Department of Education, Western Australia

Working together, schools within the TDS STEM partnerships have undertaken user-centred research into the challenges faced by learners, and developed enquiry questions to guide STEM-focused practice explorations. The schools are using disciplined innovation methods to generate and test radical new practices, and have taken part in a rapid design process to create tools that can support the scaling of these practices in new contexts.

“The partnership has allowed us to gain a future focussed vision of our teaching and learning practices for 2017. It has encouraged critical and creative thinking skills not only for staff but for students and it has brought about a whole systems change whereby we now plan and teach collaboratively with a focus on 21st century learning.” Coolbina Primary School

Partnerships not only between schools, but also with the community, parents and industry are essential if we are to capture learner interest and imagination through STEM, and increase both academic performance and engagement. To ensure their innovations can benefit many more learners beyond their own walls, schools within the partnerships are currently focusing on the development of relationships with external organisations, and also with other schools with similar interests and ambitions.

Local organisations, universities and individuals can offer a wealth of opportunities to help schools expand their capacity to creatively meet the needs of learners. As these partnerships are created, they are providing learners with opportunities for real world STEM experiences through internships, intellectual resources through access to professional experts, and physical resources or equipment that schools may not otherwise be able to use. These partnerships also offer incredible professional learning opportunities for teachers and are leading to the collaborative development of mutually-valuable, powerful new practices that may not have been possible in the past, particularly given the state’s geography.

“We have developed STEM and Technology partnerships with schools, businesses, Scitech and universities and digital action research with primary schools. We were also sponsored by Deloitte during Arcadia and had the Science and Innovation Activation Space where we had over a 1000 students from schools visit. We held a highly successful ‘hands on’ Tech Day with Scitech in partnership with Curtin University who we invited to collaborate with us. Over 100 people attended and we had to turn people away when it was full.” Cecil Andrews Senior High School