STEM4Innovation – A Western Australian journey into connected STEM education.
In March 2020, the reality of the global COVID-19 emergency became manifest in Western Australia. The experience of school closures, work from home, social and physical distancing, and the rapid adoption of online learning and teaching practices were suddenly part of every citizen’s life.
A small team of educators, already focused on developing rich community-linked challenge-based learning, took the opportunity to pivot around the type of learner engagement and sought to enable students in Western Australian schools to make tangible contributions to WA’s COVID-19 responses.
While excursions and work placements were temporarily suspended, they picked up on the invitation of the WA State Government and Public Sector Commission to contribute ideas via the iThink platform for more effective responses to the immediate demands of COVID-19 impacts, and the longer term mitigation and recovery processes.
STEM4Innovation was the label we applied to the idea and we challenged the WA Innovation Hub to draw upon the untapped potential of WA’s young people. The original post was:
“To generate authentic learning experiences for WA school students to apply STEM-inspired, curriculum-linked, design-thinking processes to solving real-world problems relating to the immediate and future impacts of COVID-19 and other community related needs in Western Australia.”
This simple idea caught the imagination of the users, and organisers, of the iThink platform. It quickly became the most discussed and most voted idea across the entire platform. These unprecedented levels of interest initiated discussions with several key figures in the WA Innovation Hub – what emerged was a collaboration with Professor Fiona Wood to explore solutions to the broad challenges facing surgeons and hospital staff in WA’s health system. Within weeks, after expressions of interest from more than 60 schools around WA, 22 schools and over 700 students embarked upon designing solutions for the challenges described by Prof. Wood in the one hour Zoom tour of her operating theatre at Fiona Stanley Hospital. In the first week of the second term of the school year, John Curtin College of the Arts hosted the STEM4Innovation showcase where 12 teams presented ideas in response to Prof Woods challenges. Students as young as 12 were investigating and designing solutions that had the potential to positively impact medical practices.
The program has begun to scale in 2021. There are now six thematic tracks supporting a wider range of engagement and enhancing positive global connections for young people. For more information see http://stem4innovation.org