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By  Jessica Hildyard 23 November 2023 4 min read

Key points

  • CSIRO hosted some 80 Pilbara educators, Elders, scientists and students for The Living STEM program showcase.
  • The program supports remote schools and communities to connect cultural knowledge with the Australian science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum.
  • Living STEM benefits all students by providing authentic and engaging STEM learning that deepens the connection with Country and culture where they live.

“All you professors, you academics, you got the knowledge, you got that science knowledge, but we got the cultural knowledge. You don’t have that – I do!”

When the dimunitive Miss Daisy Ward, Ngaanyatjarra knowledge holder and educator spoke these words, everyone sat up. It was a full house at last week’s inaugural Living STEM Showcase. Daisy’s words and her immense pride at addressing a room of mostly university-trained educators was evident. We were reminded of how powerful the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices can be when integrated into Australian science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.

This inaugural event was a vibrant and culturally-rich showcase of hands-on, two-way science learning programs from schools across the west Pilbara region. Activities were developed by local educators in collaboration with Aboriginal leaders and communities to form STEM learning programs. These were grounded in local Indigenous knowledge. The project itself is considered a significant step forward in Indigenous STEM education in the Pilbara region.

Miss Daisy Ward, Ngaanyatjarra knowledge holder and educator attends Living STEM showcase in Dampier, WA 2023

Palya! Appreciating Indigenous science with Miss Daisy

Daisy Tjupantarri Ward was one of the leaders who took to the stage as part of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands School presentation, flying over 10 hours to attend. She shared how meaningful two-way science approaches are in her community. Daisy has been working in this way since 1982 when she first stepped into a classroom. She was determined to teach younger people ‘the cultural way’.

The presentation shared work that the school and community have undertaken. They investigated residue in grindstones, which have led to insights into textile processing technologies used by Elders. The school plans to work with the Yarnangu community to revitalise this practice. They want to learn, preserve and share these skills and knowledge with current and future generations.

Teachers attend the CSIRO Living STEM Showcase 2023 in Dampier, WA.

A unique gathering of Indigenous STEM educators

The Living STEM program showcase was a unique gathering, with over 80 guests in attendance. Participants ranged from educators and STEM professionals to Aboriginal ranger groups, Elders, organisations, and stakeholders. Everyone came together to support and promote Indigenous STEM education in the Pilbara.

As a Ngarluma/Yindjibarndi Traditional Owner and the showcase MC, Clinton Walker brought a deep connection to the land and its cultural heritage. He also hosted guests on a tour of the local petroglyphs rock art. They serve as an encyclopaedia of cultural knowledge dating back 40,000+ years. In his tour, Clinton blended geology, history and Dreamtime storytelling handed down from Elders, conveying important messages of sustainability, safety, engineering and ethics for healthy country and community.

Ngarluma Country Elders lead corroborree at Living STEM Showcase 2023

Hearing from Indigenous science champions

The event was filled with colourful, culturally-led hands-on demonstrations. It presented a variety of Indigenous knowledges intertwined with STEM concepts. Guests saw presentations by educators who partnered with local Aboriginal leaders to develop engaging, two-way science activity projects for their classrooms. These hands-on demonstrations allowed attendees to visualise and see firsthand how integration of traditional knowledge is just as applicable to today’s STEM curriculum. 

Irene Hayes is a Yindjibarndi educator at Onslow Primary School. She demonstrated her dedication to bridging the gap between Western science and Indigenous knowledge. She worked closely with teacher Rebecca Mackin. Together, they built a learning program around water filtration techniques taught to Irene when she was a child.

Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation and scientists from Curtin University also shared their work. They combine sophisticated engineering and technology with the knowledge of Traditional Owners. This allows them to monitor the Murujuga petroglyphs as part of the current application for Murujuga worked heritage listing. Students from local schools are also engaged in this project, supported by the Living STEM program.

CSIRO Program lead David Broun and Living STEM Showcase MC Clinton Walker look on at the 2023 Showcase activity

Community, collaboration and Country in STEM education

The showcase was a celebration of culture, knowledge, community and collaboration. It played out against the contrasting backgrounds of dramatic geology, country and industry on the skylines of Karratha and Dampier. We were reminded of how important it is that Indigenous scientific knowledge is an integral part of research and industrial development. There is real value for students looking to join a STEM-skill reliant workforce that requires respect and care for Country.

The event celebrated the collaborative efforts of local educators and Aboriginal leaders. It also highlighted the rich tapestry of Indigenous knowledge. It demonstrated how this can be respectfully integrated into STEM education no matter where classrooms are.

About Living STEM and two-way science approach

CSIRO’s Living STEM program supports remote schools and communities to develop integrated learning programs. It connects the cultural knowledge of the local community with the Australian STEM curriculum. A two-way science approach promotes Indigenous leadership in education, and fosters partnerships between schools, communities, Indigenous ranger programs and scientists.

CSIRO is partnering with Chevron Australia to deliver the Living STEM program, connecting Indigenous knowledges to the classroom.

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