Building life skills through Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)
A very special group of Adelaide children is living proof of the value that comes from supported and contextualised STEM education in school.
This week Linden Park Primary School’s Stuart, Isabelle, Alexis and Yehan – all aged 10-11 years – travelled to Melbourne to represent South Australia at the national iAwards, the premier technology awards platform in Australia.
And they won! As a part of a class of 30, the children’s entry Leafy Sea Dragon National Park (Virtual World) was announced the top entry in the Junior School Students category.
The project reached the national stage having previously taken first prize in the youth category in the 2016 South Australia iAwards, and also winning the 2015 Craft Your Perfect National Park competition.
The virtual park is wheel-chair accessible, and features a playground, a maze, a cafeteria, a plant nursery, a gift shop and a spectacular, climbable statue of a leafy sea dragon.
“The leafy sea dragon is a marine emblem of South Australia,” explained Stuart.
The students worked together to create the design, with different strengths and abilities of the children captured by the many aspects of the project.
More than just a technology project
With their winning idea constructed using the popular world-building computer game Minecraft, the ostensibly tech-centric process has taught the children and associated grown-ups so much more than was expected.
Yes, computing skills were important but entering and winning competitions demanded a broader perspective. For example, the national iAwards process required that the students present their project to a panel of judges, and answer any questions.
“We had to practice our pitch!” said Stuart.
With teacher and parent support, the children were guided through improving their oral presentation skills.
“We had lots of mentoring sessions, and we had folders with information in them so we kept track,” Alexis said.
Student Isabelle agreed. “Yes, and we got feedback from our teachers and our school principal.”
“Plus we made business cards,” said their friend Yehan.
Planning, preparation and receiving feedback, along with building an ability to discuss their work’s broader implications are just some of the side-benefits the children have gained from the project.
Let’s start at the very beginning
Designing a national park is not a standard part of primary school education in South Australia. This very unique experience started following a simple suggestion from parent Melissa Cadzow to teacher Sheree Wingard.
Melissa learnt that the South Australian government was running a National Park design competition for students, and suggested that perhaps Sheree’s year 3/4 class of 2015 could enter. Stuart (Melissa’s son), Isabelle, Alexis and Yehan were all in that class.
“Melissa came to me and said ‘what do you think?’ and I said ‘sure, let’s go for it!’“ laughed Sheree. “I’ve learnt along the way with the students, and that’s why it’s been so powerful.”
Support was also forthcoming from Linden Park Primary School’s principal Vicki Porter, and Chair of the Governing Council Kathy Laycock.
“It would have been safer for the school to say no,” said parent Melissa. “And they didn’t.”
“Having all those people saying ‘yes’ along the way has had a huge impact,” teacher Sheree agreed.
Learning without realising they were learning
With the backing of the school and parent communities, Sheree guided her students through a 5-week process of research, consultation, hand drawings and Minecraft design to create the Leafy Sea Dragon National Park.
“I was surprised at how much the children got out of it, it was amazing,” said teacher Sheree. “And the fact that I could weave the curriculum into it without them even realising was awesome.”
“I didn’t even know I was doing maths!” laughed Alexis.
The primary students’ design beat almost 40 other entries to win the Create Your Perfect National Park, and then came up against tech projects created by students aged up to Year 9 in the state and national iAwards competition.
Building confidence through STEM capability
Having won so many prizes and accolades, are the children famous now?
“No! We’re not really that famous. Just like in the middle,” giggled Isabelle.
Fame aside, there are long term benefits from the project that are already clear.
“It’s been a lifetime opportunity,” explained Yehan. “And we learnt teamwork.”
As a parent, Melissa can already see changes in her son.
“Stuart is now entering STEM competitions all over the place!” she said. “He’s been working on a STEM Video Game Competition over the past 8 weeks that I’ve hardly been involved in at all.”
“It’s no longer ‘am I good enough to enter?’…he just jumps in. It’s confidence,” Melissa said.
© 2016 Inspiring South Australia. Story and images may not be reproduced without permission.