It’s not your everyday classroom that sees students playing with catapults and marshmallows. But for a group of Year 5 and 6 students from a primary school in Sydney, these items were used to spark their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as part of the STEM Professionals in Schools program.

Elline Camilet, a Chemical Engineer at Sydney Water, has been partnered with Tanya Modini from Regina Coeli Primary School for three years through STEM Professionals in Schools. Elline visited the school to work with the teachers on a range of fun learning activities aligned to the school’s sustainability focus including a talk about her field of work and how STEM directly impacts the teachers and students’ everyday lives.

Elline Camilet, a Chemical Engineer at Sydney Water, has been partnered with Tanya Modini from Regina Coeli Primary School for three years through STEM Professionals in Schools.

Career talk

Elline shared how she applies science in her job working with water and wastewater treatment. The students learned how they can help maintain water resources by turning off taps while brushing their teeth, limiting their time in the shower and “keeping wipes out of the pipes” like tissues.

The teacher Tanya recognises the importance of the visit, saying, “Not being trained scientists, primary teachers can find it difficult to respond to the STEM questions put forward by students. Elline’s expertise has been invaluable.

“The students now know that STEM professionals look like everyone else and are not like the stereotypes they see on many of their television programs. The girls especially have been motivated by Elline to see science as an interesting subject.”

Projectile motion

Instead of taking a traditional approach to learning about projectile motion, students were given string and marshmallows to put some projectile motion theories to the test. The students investigated the different variables effecting a catapult launch to propel a marshmallow three metres into a bucket.

This triggered discussion about different types of energy (potential and kinetic) and a wide range of scientific terminology. The students applied data gathering and associated referencing skills and learned about material properties such as elasticity, and the impact this had on the catapult designs.

Microorganisms

In addition to working with Tanya, Elline assisted other teachers at the school during her visit to introduce the students to ‘marvellous microorganisms’. By using bread and yeast as an example, the students could see real-life STEM applications in their hands by investigating the variables that influence mould growth.

The partnership

The pair have collaborated on a range of activities including a robotics project and how Sydney Water is using drones to monitor the quality of waterways. These activities have increased Tanya's knowledge in STEM and the students' level of engagement and learning outcomes.

But the students aren’t the only ones who have found the visits useful. Elline values her partnership with Tanya and the school and recognises the impact her visits have.

“It feels good knowing that I’m giving back to my community,” said Elline. “I really enjoy promoting STEM as a career choice to students – in particular, providing a female role model to the female students so that a career in STEM is considered as an option.

“I also really enjoy the kids’ inquisitive nature. They have very smart questions and they have been genuinely curious about the topics covered in my visits so far.”

Tanya also finds the her STEM Professionals in Schools partnership beneficial.

“Elline's presence has enabled the students to see STEM subjects as a long-term study option as they see where it can lead to. Informal surveys before and after her visit show that the students' interest in choosing science or engineering as a career option has increased, especially for the female students.”

Elline and Tanya are looking forward to collaborating on more activities as part of their partnership over the coming school terms. A field trip to a local rain garden is being planned to help students understand what happens to waterways if rubbish is not put in the bin.

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