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Baringa State Primary School Implementation of STEM

Making a difference

Years 3-4; 5-6

Baringa opened its doors at the start of 2018 as Education Queensland’s first purpose-built STEM school. A consistent approach to quality teaching, known as our 'signature practices', ensures that learning is seamless throughout the school.

Drone club

Baringa State Primary School

Baringa State Primary School is a caring, inclusive and innovative learning community that empowers students to reach their full potential as global learners. Each member of our school community believes that every student can and will achieve. Baringa opened its doors at the start of 2018 as Education Queensland’s first purpose-built STEM school. A consistent approach to quality teaching, known as our 'signature practices', ensures that learning is seamless throughout the school. Our comprehensive framework incorporates direct instruction to inquiry learning, with a specific focus on cross-curricular STEM units taught every term, in every classroom. At Baringa we ‘Imagine, Discover, Together’.

Implementation of STEM @ Baringa

As Education Queensland’s first STEM school, our STEM curriculum design is based on trust, openness and a futuristic approach to learning for every child. Students in all year levels are immersed in STEM subjects. Baringa uses a cross-disciplinary approach that integrates STEM disciplines around relevant contexts (ie a problem, question, product or issue), with a host key learning area based on the Australian Curriculum. Critical to our STEM agenda is developing a deep understanding in the key learning areas and building students’ capacity, willingness and resilience so that they can solve problems while being immersed in authentic learning environments. Through our STEM inquiry units, we not only build students' capacity to work with complex and unfamiliar problems, we encourage students to question and to wonder.

When planning a cross-disciplinary STEM unit we follow a sequence of steps.

  1. Know the Australian Curriculum and what it is that we are teaching and assessing.
  2. Identify a relevant context.
  3. Consider the achievement standards of the host learning area and any other assessable linked learning areas.
  4. Develop an integrated cross-curricular teaching sequence.
  5. Assess students' learning and report against the Australian Curriculum subject achievement standards.
  6. Evaluate the approach.

Modelling, coaching and developing staff capacity

Any school implementing curriculum reform, whether new or old, needs to consider the expertise and experiences of staff. At Baringa we believe in building teacher capacity to allow all teachers to embed our cross-disciplinary STEM units. It’s for this reason we have developed a culture of learning where STEM teachers and students believe that high expectations exist and that STEM skills are valuable to all students, and therefore are taught in every classroom. Teachers learn with students through a school-wide modelling, coaching and mentoring program. We believe that investing in our teachers’ knowledge and skillset is vital. All staff are involved in a modelling, coaching and mentoring capacity as we enable our teachers to become experts in different fields, creating an expert teaching team through distributed leadership. In STEM, this involves developing leaders and experts that can support other teachers in areas such as 3D printing and laser cutting, virtual and mixed reality, using tools such as Micro:bit, drones and robotics and embedding the ICT capabilities within our BYOD iPad program.

How does modelling and coaching make a difference?

Distributing leadership in STEM creates a culture of learning and allows for change. As educators, we are learners, teachers and leaders. We learn with and from each other in a non-threatening environment where it is okay to not know the answer and not be the expert. Not only does it help build and develop teachers' skills in STEM, it creates a culture of trust and openness where people are willing to accept and embrace change in curriculum delivery and teacher mindsets. In line with our school motto, it also allows teachers to ‘Imagine, Discover, Together’.

Interview with a teacher: Maree Case (Year 4)

What was your STEM knowledge before starting at Baringa?

I have been a classroom teacher for 14 years and prior to that a teacher aide for 7 years. Before starting at Baringa I had a very limited understanding of STEM – I knew it involved technology but I had never taught a STEM unit and had never taught any coding or robotics, let alone sensors and 3D printing.

How has the coaching and modelling process worked for you and your class?

The coaching and modelling has been integral for my learning. I have had the opportunity to have the HOC – Digital Engineer support me in class and have had access to a Year 6 teacher who is training to be knowledgeable in the use of the 3D printer. I’m a visual and kinaesthetic learner, so for me to observe colleagues who have knowledge and passion about STEM projects gives me the confidence to have a go at something completely foreign to my past pedagogical practices. I now feel confident in using the online and school resources and know that I have access to onsite support whenever I need it. I suppose the biggest drawcard for me has been having the opportunity to learn with my students.

What has been the biggest impact on student learning and engagement?

STEM exposes students to a variety of opportunities. It is hands-on and engaging. Many of my students, after just one lesson on ‘Tinkercad’, went home and began their own 3D design journey. They completed lessons and were even able to teach me some things. Using the cross-curricular perspective also means that it is relevant to what we are teaching and allows students to see how STEM can be applied in the real world instead as an add-on subject.

– Maree Case, Year 4 teacher, Baringa State Primary

Example cross-curricular units

Years 3–4: The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch

Year 4: Micro:bit unit – The ultimate plant watering system

Year 5: A virtual world – The wallum sedge frog

Safety considerations

Substantial research has been conducted into the safe use of VR in primary schools. As a result, Baringa has conducted a risk assessment into the use of VR within the curriculum and ensures all teachers using VR adhere to the following:

  • When using VR headsets, the headpiece elastic is to be removed to allow quick removal of the VR headset.
  • Students are to remain supervised while wearing a headset.
  • Students are not to wear the headset for more than 3 minutes without removing it for a short break.
  • If students experience any discomfort or motion sickness the VR experience is to cease immediately.
  • Motion VR apps will not be used while at school, eg rollercoaster VR experiences.
  • Classroom VR headsets are to be phone-based only as most computer-controlled VR headsets have a 13+ age rating.

Check out this infographic for more information on safety considerations.

What advice would you give anyone wishing to undertake a similar project?

My advice to schools wanting to implement a cross-curricular STEM approach would be:
  • Tip 1: Decide on a host subject area: To embed STEM as a cross-disciplinary approach you don’t have to completely change your curriculum. Decide on a host subject such as Science and look for ways to bring in Digital and Design Technologies. You will be surprised how often Mathematics also aligns nicely with a cross-disciplinary approach.
  • Tip 2: Assess in key learning areas: With an already overcrowded curriculum, when developing assessment ensure that the task or tasks allow you to assess against the Australian Curriculum achievement standards in not only the host subject but Digital or Design Technologies (or both).
  • Tip 3: Reflect, change, improve: At Baringa our STEM units are always in draft. Be prepared to take the time to reflect on your units, modify and improve. Be flexible and ask teachers and students for feedback.
  • Tip 4: Build an expert teaching team and a culture of learning: Teachers don’t need to be experts in everything STEM, but they need to have a trusting and open team around them that can support, provide guidance and help mentor. Ensure teachers know that it’s okay to be a novice; after all, your teachers are the most valuable resource you have in a school. Invest the time to develop them. It will be worth it!