The ELSA: STEM in Schools program is being developed by world-leading education researchers at the University of Canberra (UC) to increase the participation of Australian students in STEM education and boost their STEM skills in the early primary school years.
The program will provide students in Foundation year, Year 1 and Year 2 with the opportunity to explore an online, play-based learning environment, delivered through a series of digital tools that are rich in STEM concepts. The digital activities will focus on developing spatial reasoning and logical reasoning skills, because spatial reasoning is the best predictor of whether children will end up in a STEM-related career.
The project is led by Centenary Professor Tom Lowrie, the Director of the STEM Education Research Centre (SERC) at UC, with funding provided by the Australian Government Department of Education.
The core philosophy underpinning the program is ‘STEM for all’, and the program aims to ensure students have access to authentic and contextual STEM experiences, irrespective of where they live.
Professor Lowrie says the ELSA: STEM in Schools program will feature play-based activities—both digital and analogue—designed specifically for each year level.
“The program will be accessible for every child—regardless of gender, cultural heritage, socio-economic status (SES) or experience—and actively include those children in vulnerable, geographically-isolated, and non-traditional-learning communities who have often been excluded from STEM education opportunities,” said Professor Lowrie.
Students will be able to complete the ELSA activities on any computer or hand-held device with a web browser. The program will balance digital games with teacher-led, hands-on activities that can be completed in the classroom or the playground.
In fact, only one-third of the program will take place on digital devices—limiting screen time but also giving students the opportunity to experience STEM scenarios that would be very difficult for teachers to reproduce in a real-life classroom setting (such as the perspective of a bird flying over the roof of the classroom).
Importantly, the digital tools will collect student’s STEM literacy data, and report this data back to teachers, without time-consuming formal assessments.
“The ELSA: STEM in Schools program will also be beneficial to teachers, with a comprehensive professional development course designed to increase STEM knowledge, teaching capacity, and confidence in teaching STEM,” Professor Lowrie said.
The program’s philosophy of ‘STEM for all’ has also informed its primary objective, which is to increase children’s engagement and interest in STEM, leading to a significant and substantial national improvement in STEM literacy in the early primary years.
The program will focus on content from the Australian Curriculum, with close alignment to learning outcomes for the relevant STEM-discipline curricula, as well as ACARA’s Numeracy Learning Progressions.
Interested teachers and school representatives will be able to register on the ELSA: STEM in Schools website from 14 August. The expression of interest will be open to all Australian schools, with the pilot program commencing in Term 1, 2024.