High possibility STEM schools: the future for Australian education

19th May 2022

Author: Associate Professor Jane Hunter, teacher educator and researcher, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology Sydney. Twitter @janehunter01

Photo of Jane Hunter

Over three years, just prior to the start of the pandemic, I conducted research to build capacity and confidence in teaching and learning in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with 59 teachers working in teams in 14 New South Wales (NSW) primary schools (Hunter, 2021).

In this post I want to review some of the arguments made where I contend that Integrated STEM with a capital ‘I’ and the scaffold of a validated pedagogical framework for digital learning is an avenue for achieving transformation of what it means to teach and learn in schools that are fit for purpose in 2022 and beyond. We need to, as Dylan Wiliam (2018) reminds us, “Stop looking for the next big thing in education and instead focus on doing the last big thing properly” (p. 118).

Education in Australian schools is at a crossroads – the post-pandemic landscape (and I acknowledge Covid-19 and all its variants are still not over) is peppered with the high levels of teacher and principal stress, significant teacher attrition and shortages in all subject areas, unreasonable workloads and oft reported poor behaviours of students who seem to have forgotten what it means to do school. It is, for someone like me who first stepped into a high school classroom with a full-time teaching position in 1982, quite depressing. I have seen and participated in the best and the worst of times in K-12 education as a classroom practitioner, head teacher, senior policy officer, teacher educator, and researcher.

In thinking more about fit for purpose based on evidence from the research studies in 14 schools a blueprint for High Possibility STEM Schools emerged. In this blueprint there are 10 directions that I argue will support a reorientation and dare I say, a revolution in education* that is so badly needed; they are:

  1. Prioritising Integrated STEM learning
  2. Building middle leaders
  3. Creating academic partnerships – involving participatory action research and practitioner inquiry
  4. Funding professional learning and STEM resources
  5. Focusing on equity
  6. Extending STEM to STEAM
  7. Developing technological literacies – involving artificial intelligence (AI), big data and learning analytics
  8. Creating effective assessment
  9. Designing contemporary learning spaces – involving flexible school structures and organisation
  10. Facilitating transdisciplinary boundary crossing – for the whole school.

*I will add that there are primary schools in NSW and indeed across Australia that are already taking these directions – and have been doing it for some time – we just need MORE of them. It’s not about MORE work, it’s a different way of working. BUT it does require MORE funding and resources for K-12 education. The blueprint directions present transformative possibilities for secondary schools too. I highlight some of these sites in the book.

Each direction in the blueprint for High Possibility STEM Schools is defined by a substantive outline based on data from research. In summary, the research in the 14 primary schools found teachers’ capacity and confidence increased when:

  • an Integrated almost boundary crossing approach to the curriculum was evident in planning for learning
  • as middle leaders, they acted as pedagogical coaches
  • they worked in an academic partnership with an outsider/s from a university – this was essential
  • professional learning was given regular time in their school every week
  • equity and a focus on girls were prioritised
  • STEM teaching and learning were inclusive of the Arts and the Humanities to make it STEAM
  • technological literacies in AI, data, and approaches to collecting strategic and selected evidence was demonstrated and valued
  • assessment reports integrated learning in terms of skills and capabilities
  • open, flexible spaces where longer blocks of learning time were important in the way the school/s ran; and
  • the silos of subjects and each curriculum outcome were less critical, and INTEGRATION acted as means to engage students and examine the world through a transdisciplinary lens.

More education research in schools is needed to analyse and critique the kinds of directions this blueprint demands and, with diminishing conditions evident in Australian education, I am fearful that the inequities we know exist will continue and young people in schools will not be receiving the education they deserve. Please prove me wrong.


References

Hunter, J. (2021). High Possibility STEM Classrooms: Integrated STEM Learning in Research and Practice, Routledge https://www.highpossibilityclassrooms.com/

Hunter, J. (2015). Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK, Routledge

Wiliam, D. (2018). Creating the Schools Our Children Need: Why What We are Doing Now Won't Help Much (And What We Can Do Instead), Learning Sciences International.


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