STEM in Junior School

By Craig Hingston

At Pacific Hills Christian School, STEM is taught as a specialist area within the Junior School.

The STEM Specialist Teacher, Mr Phil Swaisland, has always had a passion for this subject area and was excited to take on the role of specialist teacher this year. Mr Swaisland teaches using a collaborative approach with the classroom teachers. This provides an opportunity for the students to have a rich learning experience whilst also providing excellent professional development for the teachers who work closely with Mr Swaisland.

Everyone is a learner in the Junior School. The STEM program begins in the Prep class and is continued across all classes in Junior School with students having a 90 minute lesson each week.

The Junior School is a technology-rich environment and students are supplied with a personally setup iPad for use at school. These devices are used to enhance learning and feature in all STEM programs. The students have used iPads to design objects in a virtual three dimensional space which are then manufactured using a 3D printer – learning about the relationship between design and finished products.

Another tactile introduction to design thinking, which took them outside the classroom, has been DIY aeroplanes. Children love planes and this topic captured their imagination and allowed the teachers to guide the learning towards scientific concepts.

“In Science this year the STEM approach has been adopted to engage students in design thinking, problem solving and teamwork. The STEM lessons both equip students with scientific understanding while allowing them practical, real world applications for this knowledge”, said Mr Swaisland, “That is why our lessons include planes, rockets and robots. Material selection is a crucial step in engineering design and so is weight, and we asked the students to trial a range of materials for their planes and see which ones would fold and fly the best.”

“We have also begun exploring how certain substances react with each other and can then be used as energy to power a rocket! Students will be using the knowledge they learnt when testing different planes to design, prototype and build a miniature rocket!”

Robotics are becoming more common in industry and the students have taken a liking to making their own miniature robots. They not only design and make the robots they learn how to programme them to complete certain tasks such as lifting and moving loads. Students enjoy a combination of in-class STEM lessons as well as extra-curricular programs like Robokids. Mr Swaisland said later this year students will participate in the international Lego robotics competition.

Agriculture and STEM are also closely aligned in the Junior School. Recently, a local bee keeper visited Junior School to explain the importance of bees and how they are so necessary to plants, and this visit has led to students using the Minecraft computer design application on their tablets to create their own garden.

“The students will use their design outcomes to determine what our garden looks like, and then they will be responsible for caring for it each week. Later on, we will add more technology to it by creating a ‘smart garden’ with electronic sensors collecting data about the weather and the soil. The students will be asked to interpret this data and use it to improve their ‘crops’”, added Mr Swaisland.

The students in Junior School are enthusiastic about STEM and have demonstrated a real passion for learning. This motivation positively impacts across all areas of the Junior School as it brings about a love for learning in the students and they take this with them as they grow into independent learners.

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