A week-long inter-diocesan STEM challenge, Project Stay Afloat, has seen 1,700 students from over 60 classes in 30 schools across the Dioceses of Wollongong and Lismore use their Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics skills to create in-class solutions to a global problem: rising sea levels.
While most students were winding down for the term, teachers and students from Years 5 and 6 at St Paul’s, Albion Park; St Joseph’s, Bulli; St Columbkille’s, Corrimal; St John’s, Dapto; St Francis, Edmondson Park; Holy Cross, Helensburgh; Ss Peter & Paul, Kiama; St Mary Star of the Sea, Milton; St Michael’s, Nowra; St Justin’s, Oran Park; St Patrick’s, Port Kembla and St Michael’s, Thirroul were spending Week 11 of Term 1 on Project Stay Afloat 2018 - working collaboratively to engineer adaptive housing solutions for communities affected by rising sea levels.
Over the week, students conducted research and developed their scientific thinking around rising sea levels as a consequence of a warming climate and the implications this has on coastal environments and populations. They even had the opportunity to engage via live streaming with leading sea level expert, Professor John Church, who presented information and answered their questions on the issue. The students worked collaboratively with their peers and across connected classrooms to share learning, ideas and compare impacts of their experiments.In line with the CEDoW STEM Strategy 2017-2019, teachers also guided their students through a number of relevant digital learning experiences covering several areas of the curriculum. A particular favourite was the MYSTERY FaceTime challenge, which required students to video conference with each other and use geographical tools and questioning to discover the location of their opposing connected classroom. Students then had the opportunity to share key learning and compare similarities and differences about how their local area may be affected by rising sea levels. It was the highest student-rated activity throughout the week, with half of all students grading the experience a 5/5 and another 37 per cent giving it a 4/5.
These activities culminated in the students, in small groups, designing and producing a model of housing that sought to solve this problem of rising sea levels. The teams finished the challenge by presenting short digital pitches to communicate their final design to their peers and teachers.
Prototypes ranged from non-tech and low-tech models using recycled and/or used materials such as plastic cups, balloons, straws, paddle pop sticks, cling wrap, aluminium foil and rubber bands, to more high-tech designs using apps and coding. Solutions included a solar-powered houseboat, an underwater house, an elevated house connected via raised walkways, a mechanical house programmed to lift or relocate during inundation, a floating house on a pontoon demonstrated using a sphero, and a warning system using littleBits and an app.
CEDoW Learning Technologies Education Officer and Project Stay Afloat Coordinator, Ben Woods, said the creativity, thinking skills and pitching abilities on display from the participants were exceptional.
“The students were engaged and challenged to think of creative and innovative solutions to the impacts of rising sea levels and across both dioceses, the solutions were outstanding. It highlights what amazing things can be designed if students are given time to apply design thinking,” he said.
“It is great to see such creative minds at work. If these students continue to critically think about the world we live in and strive to make a difference, then the future looks bright. Creative and innovative solutions are the key to the future.”
The feedback from participating teachers and students has been extremely positive, with almost 90 per cent of survey participants from the challenge saying the experience had increased their interest in STEM subjects.
“It was fun to work as a group and share each other’s opinions,” one student said, “It made me want to engineer more prototypes and designs to stop major problems.”
“The challenge was a great way to interact with other classes,” another said.
“It was fun, exciting and brain-working,” a third agreed, “It was the best thing I’ve ever done in school!”
Congratulations to the Diocese of Wollongong winners - Flynn, Jacob and Hugo from Holy Cross, Helensburgh [pictured below]. They designed a model of a house engineered on the mountain using buoyancy to raise the houses when the sea level rises. This was also supported by a sea wall to slow the rate of rising water. A fantastic effort by the boys, designing a house that incorporated adaptive and innovative technologies and capped off by their very professional pitch.
A further congratulations to the Diocese of Lismore winners - Sally, Ruby, Martin and Jak from St Joseph’s Primary, South Grafton. They modelled an app to control waterproof fencing that responded to the sea level around it. A system on top of the waterproof fencing was also designed to communicate the weather, tides and time.
Both successful teams have been awarded a new drone for their schools!