Dr Wendy Jobling, Deakin University

Dr Wendy Jobling, Deakin University

Teachers and parents are frequently reminded of the importance to the Australian economy of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education at all levels, beginning in early childhood settings. At the school level this can be a problem that needs a solution when teachers are faced with apparently competing needs. How to incorporate STEM into our school’s curriculum which has even more demands than before because of the many lockdowns due to Covid. How can we go about this in a way that allows us to still address the basics of numeracy and literacy but still involves our students in inquiry based learning?

One suggestion is to involve your students in solving problems that are of interest and relevance to them and their school community. It can also bring in parents who may be looking for highly engaging activities that do not necessarily involve the use of devices.

Themes are one starting point and could include problems around Communication, the Environment, Safety, Food and Energy. These can be focused on in small groups from all year levels in a school based setting including Outside School Hours Care; or even at home. The focus could primarily be on one discipline or spread across all. No matter which approach you choose there will be a considerable amount of time spent by students in both mathematical and literacy based activities.

Below are some suggestions that you may want to take up. I would enjoy getting feedback about any that you try. (If you are in need of some others please see the reference list.)

Stationery organiser

Those of you faced with the problem of needing to organise your students’ stationery can look at solving this problem using only recycled materials. The major focus here is on Design and technologies which is perhaps a good starting point. The science in this case is around the properties of the materials for the intended purpose and the joining techniques (other than ‘sticky tape’). Some basic mathematics is required in terms of measurement. (This was successfully done by year three students but could be adapted to suit all levels.)





Nest boxes

As you enjoy time in local parks you may have seen some nest boxes. This problem arose in my school after a working bee during which trees with hollows were removed due to safety concerns which in turn resulted in some homeless animals, specifically parrots and possums. My year five students designed and made nest boxes from recycled wood from a construction site. We had some help from a parent to cut the wood and another to place the boxes in trees in the schoolground. The Design brief was to design and make a suitable nest box to house our local homeless wildlife.ScienceYou will need to find out the types of birds and possums that can be found in your location and their nesting requirements. This forms part of your investigation and would also involve observing and recording numbers.

Technology (Design and technologies)

Creating designed solutions


This is where science comes in as the types and numbers of animals likely to be in need of a nest box are recorded. You will also need to investigate suitable materials for building the nest box and when it is completed where to locate it. Also think about how you will put it together.

Generating (designing)

You can sketch your ideas out remembering to include measurements and instructions about how to put the box together. You may want to try a free Computer Aided design program such as Tinkercad (https://www.tinkercad.com/ )


Where you now put the box together. It can be during this stage that you may find some problems and need to go back to the ‘drawing board’ to solve any problems.


Congratulations on completing the nest box. Does it meet the needs of your animals?


In this case this will be about the box and how it is engineered. Will it have a lid to allow you to clean it out if necessary?


For this project much of this will be around measurement but will also involve data collection about the number and types of animals in your location. Finally, it can also provide opportunities for writing or communicating to others about the whole process. There is potential for this to be a YouTube video.

More problems or opportunities

Ask your students to organise a barbecue for their class or a group of friends (considering the health regulations). They will need to begin with a brainstorm (Planning and managing from Design and technologies) to identify what needs to be done and by whom and will include a timeline.

A major focus here is on mathematics. Although it also involves Science (food safety) and Design and technologies with the focus on food.


How many people? Their food preferences (from a range of choices including vegetarian), the amount of each ingredient needed and how much will this cost. Cooking – timing so that all of the food is ready at the same time. (Depending on the age of those involved, who will be doing the cooking.) Designing how the food will be distributed and the seating arrangements will also need to be considered as will waste disposal – recyclables and rubbish.

Some creative opportunities are around invitations and also collecting data on the success of the occasion.

Picking up on the recycling associated with the barbecue you may want to involve your students or children in designing and making a worm farm.

Some other ideas linked to the environment can include designing and making a model solar vehicle. If anyone is interested in following this up please email me (I am a committee member) or take a look at this site https://www.modelsolar.org.au/ .

Finally, for those with an interest in digital technologies as distinct from Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) which in the Australian Curriculum is to be re-named Digital literacy, you may want to look at designing and making a robotic vehicle to solve a problem such as exploring a planet for example, Mars or for search and rescue purposes. An Australian team has recently come second in a competition around the latter (https://blog.doublehelix.csiro.au/australia-wins-a-million-at-the-robot-olympics/ ). I hope you enjoy solving some of these problems or better still having your students or children suggesting others in need of a solution.

References and suggested reading