STEM Program for Kids: Creating Leaders of the Future
Peaking student interest in STEM
While young Australians are interested in STEM, equitable access to the field remains an issue.
According to the 2021 Youth in STEM report, 45% of girls who took the survey were not confident in their abilities to study science, noting they are simply ‘not good at it’. Those with parents in STEM-related jobs also have a leg up, with their children more likely to express an interest.
How can we level the playing field?
The Beacon Program, powered by Lumination and BAE Systems, is a free STEM program for kids addressing this issue by inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Through the use of emerging and immersive technologies, the program gives students the opportunity to solve real world problems around sustainability and gets them thinking about future career opportunities they never thought possible.
What is STEM and why is it important?
When asked what STEM was, only 65% of young people knew what the acronym stood for.
The world is dynamic and technology is rapidly changing expectations about education and future careers. This means the skills gap for STEM-based expertise is widening, and needs to be addressed.
The need for ‘human skills’, also known as ‘soft skills’ continues to grow, as our next generation prepares for careers filled with more change, decision making and collaboration than ever before.
“This type of technology is really coming up at the moment, so this is where a lot of the future of STEM in general is coming from,” says Lucy, an engineer at BAE Systems Australia. “In a lot of businesses this is something that they’re looking for people to have the skills in.”
Despite 85% young people (aged 14-17) showcasing a vague interest in STEM, the number of school students studying STEM in later secondary (Year 11 and 12) has flat-lined at around 10% or less in recent years.
Beacon of hope
After running a successful 10-week Beacon program, Lumination and BAE launched a 5-day program aimed at students years 3 to 6. Taking place in South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia, the students spent their school holidays exploring the realms of land, air and sea.
The program provided access to students who would not typically have an opportunity to utilise emerging technologies, with the goal of increasing inclusivity and setting students up for future success.
“My favourite part was the 360 VR experience,” says Abbas. “This experience is a month’s worth of STEM in one week.”
With hands-on experiences using immersive virtual reality, coding, robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D modelling and more, STEM and ICT Coordinator from Bexley Public School, Nancy Di Bello, discussed the progress made by her students.
“Watching them use this technology and think outside the box, and to create, and design and build, has been amazing,” says Di Bello. “When they’ve got an empathy and a deeper understanding of a problem, then they’re more likely to go out there and solve the problem.”
Becoming future world heroes
Led by Lumination’s education team, its registered teachers took students through a deep exploration of how technology can be used to solve future issues and make the world a better, and more sustainable, place to live in.
“We’ve been using the robots Kai’s Clan, we’ve been coding with TinkerCAD and CoSpaces,” says Ansuya. “We were making a sustainable, smart city, and it’s all about climate change and how to fight it.”
The students started on day one learning about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and by day five, had created their own sustainable cities.
They took their skills to the next level using a variety of technologies:
- Merge Cubes to create an augmented reality project
- Virtual reality to explore smart cities and what makes them sustainable
- Kai’s Clan robotics and learned the basics of coding
- TinkerCAD to create their own unique invention as a 3D model
- CoSpaces to design their own sustainable city
“We used TinkerCAD to create technology, which we imported into CoSpaces and we were able to use it with the virtual reality helmets,” says Dana.
Exploring the importance of teamwork and cooperation, the program focused on working together to turn their big ideas into real solutions.
Ask the experts
On the final day of the program the students were greeted by BAE engineers Mick and Lucy, to answer questions about engineering. Their inquiries included lots of different, curious questions about the life of an engineer, like:
- How do you come up with ideas to problems?
- What is your best advice to become an engineer?
- How is your job different from when you just started?
The conversation encouraged and inspired the students, providing insights on the day in the life of an engineer as well as career opportunities and companies that exist within the STEM industry.
“I love that they can do all these things like coding already, they’re already forming those mental pathways,” says Lucy. “So the fact that they’re able to do this now, I think, is really important.”
It’s all about impact
The 5 day intensive was shown to have a positive impact on students’ perceptions of STEM subjects at school.
- In Maths – 56.6% increase in students who chose Maths as their favourite subject
- In Science – 15% increase in students who chose Science as their favourite subject
- In Digital Technologies – 22.5% increase in students who chose Digital Technologies as their favourite subject
“Our goal with this program is to promote diversity and inclusion in STEM across Australia, keep students engaged in their education and provide them with future career opportunities,” says Rebecca Bendikov, Head of Education Programs at Lumination.
Parents and teachers alike were moved by the program and its results, with Di Bello noting how amazing the experience was for her students at Bexley.
“I do want to be an engineer now and try to create things that will help the environment,” says Dana.
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