I attended the Department of Education’s STEM Showcase (see the tweet feed at #STEMShowcase). In case you’ve been living under a rock – STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. STEM is clearly a movement that is gaining momentum, and my question is where does geography fit into this? Or History? Or Commerce? I have been trying to think of a new acronym to get us in on this movement. If you have any ideas, please let me know. What occurred to me is how many of these STEM projects have very obvious crossovers with humanities subjects, particularly geography. This post will look at a few of the presentations that I saw today and some ideas of how humanities subjects could also be included.
Baulkham Hills High School – Weather TECH
Students created a STEM project involving the construction of a weather station. This involved a design process, coding of the equipment, manufacturing the equipment with a 3D printer, and collecting and analysing weather data.
In the Science faculty, this was undertaken as part of a student research project. In TAS, students developed skills in using CAD and CAM software and Arduino to design, code and create the equipment. In Maths, students' skills were developed in analysing and presenting the vast amount of weather data collected. Students (and teachers) successfully created a working model with equipment collecting weather data every second. The real world applications to agriculture were emphasised.
In the new NSW Geography syllabus the WeatherTECH project would fit easily within the Water In the World topic, particularly Water resources and the Water cycle. It also addresses fieldwork requirements – using weather instruments.
Examine the WeatherTECH project site.
Bellingen High School - Survive the Shake
The topic of this STEM project was earthquake proof buildings. Students designed, produced and evaluated a multi-storey building with a small fooprint, which was specified. Students were provided with a design process to follow which provided a scaffold to follow during project. Students were required to use cheap materials such as straws, toothpicks, marshmallows, etc to create a model of their buildings. Building designs were tested on an earthquake shake table created by the teachers.
In the Science faculty, the project tied into content related to earthquake size and magnitude, damage and destruction and prediction of quakes. In Maths it tied in with content related to geometry, 3D design shapes and budgets. The construction of the buildings and the design process involved the TAS faculty.
In the new NSW Geography syllabus the Survive the Shake project would fit into Landforms and Landscapes, particularly Geomorphic hazards. This could easily incorporate the inquiry based learning skills in the syllabus.
Examine the Survive the Shake project site.
Riverside Girls High – Post-Earth Survival
The girls at Riverside completed a STEM project examining the requirements to sustain life. Students explored the universe and designed a colony suitable for sustaining life on another planet. Students focused on: What do humans need to survive?
The project used a design process from the TAS faculty and this was used to determine project milestones. TAS introduced the students to the tools they would need to complete the project such as Sketch Up, 3D printing, etc.
Students brainstormed what it would be like if they were locked inside their house and had to stay there for 2-3 years. What would they need? What would they have to change? Students collected data on energy and water use in their own homes. From a Maths perspective students had to develop problem solving and reasoning skills, as well as data analysis. The project also incorporated the EcoMuve program from Harvard University. Assessment and presentation involved peer review and feedback.
In the new NSW syllabus the Post-Earth Survival project would fit into Place and Liveability, particularly Influences and perceptions. This could also incorporate the inquiry based learning skills in the syllabus.
Examine the Post-Earth Survival project site.
Promoting Geography and boosting numbers
A lot of time, effort and money is being spent on promoting STEM to our students. As Geography teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to promote our subject and boost senior numbers. There are plenty of ways to do this, but I think getting involved in STEM projects or at least other cross curriculum projects might be one idea that is worth a bit more consideration.
Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the Geoactive text book series.