How to engage girls in STEM subjects: Make it fun

The Australian Industry Group (AIG) estimates that up to 75% of the fastest-growing occupation categories require a sound knowledge of the STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Yet student participation rates in these subjects is falling, with only about 10% of students nationally studying advanced mathematics at the Year 12 level last year, according to Engineering Australia estimates.

When it comes to girls, the problem is worse. Girls make up slightly more than half of the Year 12 student cohort but only around a third of those students studying STEM subjects. Alarmingly, the STEM gender gap is now wider than it was in the 1980s, says the AIG.

To increase female participation in these subjects, a different approach is required. Dr John Ainley, principal research fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research, told The Conversation that “The early experience of engagement with science and mathematics is really important.

“The crucial thing is not just to have novel things that catch people’s interest, but novel things that are built on in a sustained way.”

One educator has seen great success with this method. Susan Bowler came to teaching after 20 years in the IT sector. Engaging girls in STEM is her passion and, as she revealed to Education Matters magazine, robotics is her secret.

When Bowler introduced robots into a class at the all-girls Ogilvie High School in Tasmania, “the girls just took to them like crazy, they really, really enjoyed them,” she says. Her after school club RoboSquad United has since gone on to win 24 competitions including four international championships.

Robotics is an excellent teaching tool because it can be incorporated into many different subjects and it utilises project-based learning skills: critical thinking, collaboration and communication, says Bowler.

“Those are things that are not necessarily taught in a standard classroom,” but it’s what makes learning fun, Bowler explains. “They’re happy doing it, they’re working collaboratively, they are learning, they’re having fun, they are talking, and being silly in many cases!”

“I think if you really want to get girls started in STEM, you’ve got to make it creative, you have to make it very open-ended, and you have to put it in a context where they can see the benefit of it,” she says.

Susan Bowler will be presenting at the 2016 EduTech conference, Monday, May 30 and Tuesday, June 1, at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Read more:

EduTech 2016: STEM and girls – Education Matters magazine, 2016

Lifting our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Skills – Australian Industry Group report, 2013

The Decline of STEM studies in Year 12 and Constraints to University Engineering Studies – Engineering Australia policy note, 2015


How to engage girls in STEM subjects: Make it fun
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The Sydney Independent Schools Expo: Saturday, February 27 and Sunday, February 28, 10am to 4pm

The Sydney Independent Schools’ Expo has moved to an exciting new venue. This year, the Expo will be held at the Crystal Palace event centre in Luna Park.

The new site offers excellent accessibility, abundant parking and a wide variety of facilities and catering options.

In keeping with its new iconic location, the Expo will provide a showcase for Australasia’s top independent schools, emphasising academic, athletic and extracurricular excellence.

Participating schools include boarding and day schools, single sex, co-ed, faith-based and secular options from preschool to Year 12.

The Expo provides a forum for families to meet face to face with staff and students from all these top schools – in one convenient location.

Parents are encouraged to engage with school representatives and explore their offerings in detail.

Teachers and administrators are happy to answer questions and provide families with all the information they need to find the best school for their child.

Site entry is free so come join us and make the Expo part of fun-filled family day out at Luna Park.

Sydney Independent Schools Expo fact file

When: Saturday, February 27 and Sunday, February 28, 10am to 4pm both days

Where: Crystal Palace, Luna Park

Cost: Free admission

Parking: Onsite parking

More information:

The Sydney Independent Schools Expo: Saturday, February 27 and Sunday, February 28, 10am to 4pm
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Research: Private schooling adds 12 per cent to lifetime earnings

Australian-first research commissioned by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research shows that graduates of non-government schools earn an average of 12 per cent more over their course of their careers than do their public school peers.

The income differential is attributed to the non-academic “soft” skills that private school students acquire making them good candidates for highly-paid upper managerial positions. “These findings suggest that private schooling may be important in not only fostering higher academic achievement, but also in better preparing students for a working life,” the paper says.

While the report focuses on the Catholic system, these results would also hold for graduates of independent private schools say study authors Nikhil Jha and Cain Polidano because of the sector’s “greater emphasis on the development of non-cognitive or soft skills that are important in explaining labour market outcomes.”

Read more

Long-run Effects of Catholic Schooling on Wages: Nikhil Jha and Cain Polidano for the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research

Coverage of the report in the Australian Financial Review

Research: Private schooling adds 12 per cent to lifetime earnings
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