Above: Science meets art. Credit: NASA

A strong focus on combining humanities and the arts with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) was a strong undercurrent to the STEM in Education event in Melbourne last week. Passionate teachers swapped stories on successful initiatives to engage students across the curriculum, combining design, technology, history and geography with traditional areas of science.

Presenting at the end of the second day I had the opportunity to do some show and tell and to gather insights from teachers who flip their classroom as well as to demonstrate some of Refraction’s free resources in education.

I was incredibly inspired to hear about the activities of Geoff McNamara of ACE Science’s activities at Melrose High School in Canberra, where students take to the skies to search for astronomical objects, and connect with scientist mentors to work on long-term science projects, and of the multitude of projects at Girton Grammar School in Bendigo, which has run a Most Amazing Science Race, and taken part in a variety of science challenges, some of which are listed below. Listening to these passionate teachers, you can understand how rewarding running this extensive science program has been for them.

Back from STEM to STEAM – a buzzword in blending originally siloed educational concepts in exciting and dynamic ways, STEAM allows us to tap into fantastic narratives in the arts, languages, history and society in teaching STEM. Some of the examples being touted included a fantastic, ‘Life on Mars’ project encompassing the design of spacesuit fashion, living conditions and social parameters that challenge habituating a new planet, and projects that combine the social, science and maths elements in understanding breast cancer.

Science never has and never will operate outside of society! As science communicators, it’s integral to push this message to school children to help disaffected students to engage with and understand the impact of science on their world everyday, and how creative, social and linguistic skills are essential to careers in STEM in the future. Quick plug for Careers with Code, our website produced with the support of Google Australia, that emphasises just how STEM skills can be combined with your area of passion in the degrees of today and careers of tomorrow.

The conference was an energising hubbub of voices from scientists and teachers looking to engage students more broadly from girls in maths to STEM outreach programs for lower SES schools and in rural and remote areas – the latter easily the subject for a future conference. We also chanced upon the fantastic opportunity of hearing the new Chief Scientist of Australia, COSMOS Publisher, neuroscientist, entrepreneur and science philanthropist Alan Finkel. Amazing to have a Chief Scientist with a strong educational vision.

Resources in STEM and STEAM:

Scientists and Mathmaticians in Schools

The Amazing Spaghetti Machine Competition

Science and Engineering Challenge

Australian Science Olympiad

Tournament of Minds

Refraction Education

Cosmos for Schools

LEGO Education