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By  Anastasia Prikhodko 15 December 2023 3 min read

Key points

  • Inquiry-based learning is one of the most effective ways to engage students in STEM subjects and careers.
  • Close to 1000 students showcased their solutions to community challenges such as cybersecurity, biodiversity, housing, and worker shortages.
  • STEM Community Partnerships Program end-of-year showcases brought together students, teachers, councils and industry to celebrate achievements and strengthen NSW’s talent pipeline.

Close to 1000 students from 46 high schools across New South Wales (NSW) showcased their solutions to community challenges at the STEM Community Partnerships Program (STEM CPP) end-of-year celebration.

Students presented innovative solutions addressing cybersecurity, biodiversity, housing, and worker shortages.

STEM CPP is part of Generation STEM, a 10-year NSW Government initiative. It aims to make science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) accessible, relatable and inclusive to NSW students and workers.

Our Chief Executive Dr Doug Hilton said STEM-based skills offer students diversity. CSIRO researchers work on everything from protecting protecting Australia's World Heritage Sites against climate change to designing imaging techniques to monitor and save baby corals.

Doug said there are many different types of STEM careers to choose from. 

"That's why STEM CPP is so valuable. The collaboration between local schools, industry and Councils could help strengthen the NSW STEM talent pipeline and inspire more students to pursue STEM-related careers," Doug said.

"The program's end-of-year showcase was a fantastic opportunity for the students to share what they've learnt through the year.

"It takes courage and creativity to come up with the best solutions and push through the challenges, failures, and disappointments to make your solution work. Congratulations to the students, teachers and industry partners on all that you've achieved," he said. 

Students showcase innovative thinking

Students presenting their inquiry projects

The end-of-year showcases celebrate collaboration between students, teachers, councils, and industry.

Bexley, a Macquarie Fields High School student, highlighted the significance of group work and learning about STEM. Ruby, a student from Elderslie High School, emphasised the importance of collaborative efforts with her group and the creation of new designs. 

"Our project centred on the impact of drought on produce. We developed a hydroponic system aimed at assisting farmers during droughts," Ruby said.

"Our water system effectively retains and recycles water throughout these periods. I feel motivated by the idea that I can create something to aid people and the environment."

One Unity Grammar Year 8 group, inspired by the Return and Earn program, focussed on recycling. They developed a compact machine named 'Paper Buddy' to address the problem of paper waste in schools. The group plans to install the machine in every classroom, and when the paper tray is full, it dispenses a token that can be exchanged for a class award.

Another group repurposed bottle caps by using a sandwich press lined with baking paper. They transformed the caps into keychains, name tags, and coasters.

Some of the key industry partners supporting STEM talent include Cingulan Space, Leidos Australia, Sydney Olympic Park Authority, Sydney Water, and Iberdrola.

Shaping the future STEM workforce 

STEM CPP participants engaging with industry

Inquiry-based learning is an educational approach centred on investigation and problem-solving where teachers introduce students to various scenarios, questions, and problems for them to explore. Real-world issues that directly affect the students and the community serve as motivation. 

The Generation STEM 2019-2022 evaluation report shows that attending a showcase event (91 per cent) and completing inquiry-based learning projects (89 per cent) have a significant impact on increasing STEM education awareness. 

For some students, STEM CPP is a chance to work on projects they care about and learn by experimenting. Others see it as an opportunity to turn ideas into real solutions for a better future. 

Value of hands-on learning in science

Students sharing their projects

Farhana Rahman, a Science Teacher from Unity Grammar and first time STEM CPP participant, said seeing the students work independently on a problem and put their scientific skills into action was one of her highlights.

"We have our research projects, where students choose an open-ended investigation and are guided through a structured inquiry process.

"But with STEM CPP, the students have the opportunity to collaborate on a selected project and develop their own solutions with very little input from the educators. I was very impressed by their ingenuity," Farhana said.

"STEM CPP allows students interested in science to flourish. It's a great opportunity. I saw them explain their projects to other teachers and students, and you could see there was a sense of enthusiasm and pride."

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