Year 9 students at St John the Evangelist, Nowra have been given a valuable opportunity to immerse themselves in all things STEM for a day, taking on challenges designed to develop a range of useful science, technology, engineering and mathematics thinking and skills for their future.
Organised by the school, the day engaged over 160 students in four different STEM activities - each testing the students and exposing them to different STEM competencies. In the changing landscape of today’s - and tomorrow’s - workforce, such skills will enhance this Year 9 group’s employability when they look to apply for jobs and extend their careers.
The students had to think on their feet with each activity throughout the day and master cooperation and teamwork, problem-solving and creativity to overcome the challenges and achieve the goals set out for them in the following four areas:
Bionics - students designed bionic hands out of straws and other materials, in order to give independence back to patients who have lost a hand through injury or illness. The task required students to focus on developing the digits (fingers and thumb) for their artificial hand.
Coding - students devised codes for the alphabet using only coloured lights. Applying this code, students were then required to transmit messages effectively to other students.
Skylap - students designed and made simple aircrafts using wooden materials, hot glue, electricity and a propeller. The task required students to modify their design to meet specific criteria regarding speed, weight and lift.
Catapult - students cooperatively designed and constructed a catapult to launch a tennis ball at a target. Students then adjusted their catapult to achieve better distance and accuracy.
Many students commented that they particularly enjoyed the hands-on experience of these activities, allowing the teams to not just solve problems theoretically, but practically - “using large and durable materials” to “experiment on a bigger scale” with variables and test (and retest!) their designs to achieve the best possible outcomes.
A favourite was the catapult session, and many students remarked they were surprised to have enjoyed thinking strategically to fulfil the aims of the activity.
“I didn't expect to enjoy it, but I really did!” one student said candidly.
“It was a lot of fun. Very cool!” another concurred.
Year 9's Eilish said similar: “Before starting the day, I expected the STEM day to have many limitations. I didn't expect it to be as interesting as it was! I found the catapult activity challenging, and the colour-coding activity enabled a lot critical thinking, too,” Eilish said.
Fellow student, Georgia, was also impressed with the catapult activity: “I found it challenging, because before the day I thought you could just make a catapult without thinking about how it was going to turn out, and it would just be the best one there. But I’ve learned that this is not always the case, as we found with our catapult!
“Although we didn't win, we still had fun, learned lots and worked as a team, and that is what I saw the day as being about,” she said.
Other participants enjoyed the Skylap session best, creating a model plane with a working motor “that actually flew!” and increasing their knowledge and skills with woodwork and designing for maximum aerodynamic success.
Others felt a great sense of achievement from “making up a unique form of language in code”. They gained a much better understanding of the fundamentals of coding from the task. One participant noted his surprise at “how difficult coding is and what needs to be done for it to take place”.
St John’s Science Coordinator, Charlie Coulson-Knight said the day was a conscious decision to create such a STEM experience for every student in Year 9.
“There are lots of STEM competitions out there that students can become involved with, but many require small teams and so only a small fraction in any given year group are really offered the opportunity to engage in these activities,” he said.
“For example, in the past two years, we’ve had about thirty Year 9 and 10 students successfully participating in the University of Newcastle’s Science & Engineering Challenge. It’s been very successful, with our students winning each time, but because of the limited numbers there are many of our students that have not been able to participate.
“We really wanted to bring this type of learning experience to every student, so that each student is actively involved and learning to a high standard. We’re glad we did - the response has been fantastic and many students exceeded our expectations."
“Based on the experience and success of the day, our Science faculty is planning to run this STEM day again.”
The leading students from the day will be given the opportunity to compete in this year’s University of Newcastle’s Science & Engineering Challenge. We wish them luck in furthering their STEM knowledge and success!