From grassroots to classroom: How one humble EA event turned into a state-wide curriculum resource

The first of its kind program helped teachers deliver STEM-related subjects and also foster an interest in engineering subjects.
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From grassroots to classroom: How one humble EA event turned into a state-wide curriculum resource

In what started as a fun way to engage local teachers in teaching engineering to their students in Newcastle has now turned into an accredited curriculum resource for educators across NSW.

Engineers Australia hosted an ‘Engineering Ingenuity’ workshop in Newcastle as a way for teachers to inspire their students to study STEM-related subjects.

The day was part of Engineering Week in Australia in 2014 and advertised as a way to “help your students achieve what’s needed to embark on a rewarding career in the engineering profession” with discussions and a site tour of electrical engineering firm Ampcontrol.

Engineers Australia Newcastle General Manager Helen Link says after the information day she was bombarded by teachers wanting more resources for their students.

It didn’t take long for Ms Link to realise her team was on to something great.

She mobilised her small group of staff to speak to teachers to get to find out what they were missing in their STEM curriculums. 

The content has been continuously improved over the years, with the number of schools taking part growing from six to 70 in just under three years.

“After the discussions, we hosted a number of focus group meetings which found a real need for connecting our teachers in engineering Studies at our high schools with the engineering profession,” Ms Link says.

Teachers not only needed help in delivering STEM-related subjects but also fostering an interest in subjects like engineering.

“What we found was that the teachers also needed help in contextualising engineering theories and practice as a way to better explain the engineering studies syllabus,” Ms Link says.

“They needed the resources to integrate the science and mathematics disciplines with the purpose of the science and practice of engineering.”

Volunteers and staff worked closely with engineering studies teachers to develop a pilot program where local EA volunteers hosted networking sessions focused on the modules in the current year 11 and 12 syllabus.

The program provided current industry information as well as practical application of aspects of engineering.

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“Our volunteers include an Air Force trained engineer, a structural engineer, a railway engineer, the list goes on,” Ms Link says.

“Teachers attend one and a half hour sessions twice per school term, either face-to-face or by webinar, to develop an improved understanding and appreciation of the field of engineering.”

The content has been continuously improved over the years, with the number of schools taking part growing from six to 70 in just under three years.

“This year the course has been endorsed by NSW Education Standards Authority and we will start to deliver the program across NSW,” Ms Link says.

The number of year nine engineering studies classes at her school had “recently grown from one to three. The number of female students had grown from 20 per cent to 50 per cent”.

The amount of resources and modules is growing. Right now teachers can start modules around learning the fundamentals of structures, driverless cars, and even how missiles are launched on Royal Australian Navy frigates.

Feedback from teachers has praised the practical nature of the course.

Teacher Michael Platt from Merewether High said that “being able to relate the content to real world practical situations and experiences (even anecdotal stories about different projects) helps to connect the students to the learning event. Helping us to broaden our experience can only improve the learning event.”

Speaking to the Newcastle Herald, teacher Lu Taylor said the program also “gave teachers who may not have received enough university-level training in engineering studies a deeper understanding of the field, which filtered down to students.”

The number of year nine engineering studies classes at her school had “recently grown from one to three. The number of female students had grown from 20 per cent to 50 per cent”.

Peter Cook from Kotara High School also only had good things to say.

“For teachers delivering the course in schools, the information presented is a critical component, and infinitely more useful when the discussion can be accessed later,” he said.

“It represents a wealth of experience and importantly a real-world wider perspective that resonates with students and that we otherwise can't readily access.”