STEM X Academy
In January 2016 ASTA debuted a science teacher professional development program unlike any other—the STEM X Academy five-day residential program. Forty-five teachers had the opportunity to meet with scientists, media and Questacon educators to strengthen their science teaching, improve their pedagogy, develop resources for their classrooms and be exposed to the latest cutting-edge science that Australia has to offer.
Applications were open to teachers across all sectors and levels of experience, with a number coming from rural and remote areas where professional development is hard to come by.
We wanted the experiences offered through the STEM X Academy—including the access we provide to cutting-edge science—to feed back and innovate the students' classroom experience into the future.
To achieve that goal, the STEM X Academy does something no other program does. Rather than providing science teachers with a package of resources to use in the classroom, we help them to acquire the skills and confidence to design, develop and implement their own STEM-based teaching resources. Our aim is to equip teachers to better inspire and engage students, to draw on new science in the classroom and to provide fun, firsthand experience of the scientific method through inquiry-based learning.
Central to the program are activities undertaken in Questacon's Make Space where science teachers can take part in existing directed and inquiry-based learning programs to see how they are constructed before learning how to design their own. Questacon's expertise, staff, resources and enthusiasm are essential to taking professional learning activities to a new level.
Teachers walk away with confidence, enthusiasm and ability to create high-quality classroom activities that tap new ideas in STEM, along with membership to an innovation community that can now more properly extend from research laboratories to the science classrooms of primary and secondary schools across Australia.
The highly appreciative feedback from participating teachers in 2016 reinforces the strength of the program: "STEM X is really focused on practical skills and you walk out with tangible resources you can take straight to the classroom," says Matt Ward, early career teacher of Ararat College, Victoria. "This workshop changes you as a teacher, changes your teaching, and puts you in touch with people who can help you throughout your teaching," said Rosemary Anderson of New Norfolk High School, Tasmania.
The ability to link the classroom with the laboratory through ideas and practical activities was a highlight for Matt Titmanis, of Ashdale Secondary College, Perth: "That's the biggest thing I got out of STEM X—replacing dry theory with so many interesting ways for students to explore concepts that relate both to their coursework and to real-world science."
A new publication will be published and distributed to all Australian secondary schools in May 2016, detailing the STEM X experience.
In 2017, this program will evolve to include a Primary STEM X program. Applications for the January 2017 programs will open on 1 August 2016.