STEM eye openers

Collaborative schools project

Maree Timms describes how a group of educators in country Victoria, Australia collaborated on a project to overcome the “stigma” of STEM subjects and make them more appealing, particularly for girls. Students have dully taken up the challenge!

STEM stigma

In late 2016, The Office of the Chief Scientist in Australia published Busting myths about Women in STEM”*. The paper dispels four damaging myths facing women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and highlights the need for ongoing action to encourage and support women to pursue careers in these areas. 

Statistics show that while women are just as talented and capable as men in STEM fields, the gender pay gap, workplace discrimination and a belief that STEM professions are ‘male’ roles discourage girls and women from pursuing these careers. This is something a group of dedicated educators in the rural city of Wangaratta in Country Victoria are trying to remedy.

Promoting STEM

While the group started with a small idea of creating a STEM Careers Expo, it became evident that STEM was an area in need of specific attention.   An estimated 75 per cent of jobs in the fastest growing industries in the next five to 10 years will need STEM skills. STEM is something young people need to be aware of and there is a need to improve our STEM education to increase the low uptake of students choosing STEM subjects at senior level.

In North East Victoria, where the transition rate to tertiary education is low, the team developed a series of events to get students excited about STEM including:

  • A Food and Fibre Careers Event at The University of Melbourne’s Dookie Campus where students were involved in workshops that all had a food and fibre focus, from entry level through to university level science.
  • A Health Forum covering a range of careers in health
  • A Science Day that introduced Year 9 students to coding, wine making, veterinary nursing, & speech pathology.
  • A School & Community Careers STEM Expo with an upcoming 2017 STEM Expo occurring soon
  • Hosting the National VEX Robotics Championships, which will return in December 2017.
Hands on learning

The exhibits are all very hands-on with the students coming, playing and learning through doing. These events have helped demystify STEM for both students and their parents, by creating awareness of STEM careers. The region has a low number of parents with an education level of Diploma or above, so these activities open their eyes as well to what the future holds. Research shows us that parents are the most influential people in making study decisions, despite the fact that many of them don’t feel that they have the knowledge to be that influential.


Attracting Girls

While all the events targeted both male and female students, the team were conscious of making STEM appealing to girls. The data highlights the low number of girls taking up STEM subjects, so the challenge was to raise the awareness for girls about the benefits associated with STEM.

It was interesting that there is also a more creative side to science that I didn’t know about before – Macey, Year 10

Galen College Students learning about coding the NAO robot

Sometimes it’s a matter of girls seeing other girls and women involved. For example, the group encouraged industry exhibitors at our events to be represented by their female employees, making girls and women visible in these fields. A “Women in STEM” breakfast, hosted by local female politicians, focussed on attracting industry mentors for women and bringing together students, educators and industry to discuss common issues.

Positive feedback

It seems the initiative has had an effect. Feedback from the girls involved in the programmes suggests that the team are on the right track to instil STEM enthusiasm:

“The STEM events have given me a deeper insight into the possibility of future professions.” (Madalyn, Year 10)

“It was interesting that there is also a more creative side to science that I didn’t know about before.” (Macey, Year 10)

Girls have also been involved in making “Maths is our future” videos. Here’s just one. Others can be seen on Maree’s YouTube channel.

Maree Timms

Marie is a passionate Science & Maths Teacher, who has been teaching for 30 years including posts in a remote indigenous community in Northern Australia, as well as overseas in Bursa, Turkey. Currently at Galen Catholic College, Wangaratta she has taken on a number of roles including Maths, Special Needs coordinator and now developing STEM programs in the region.

 Maree Timms and Bernadette Albertson (Science Teachers at Galen Catholic College, Wangaratta), Anne Geddis (School and Community Outreach Coordinator at CSU in Wangaratta) and Anne Shaw (Local Learning Employment Network Coordinator) have created partnerships with schools, TAFE and Local Learning and Employment Networks, plus Tertiary Institutes to help raise student aspirations for tertiary study. They do this by exposing students to new activities and making learning both interesting and fun. The STEM events typify their approach. 


*“Busting myths about women in STEM”, Roslyn Prinsley, Amber S. Beavis, Nicholas Clifford-Hordacre, Office of Chief Scientist, Australian Government

Feature Image: Pixabay

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