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Integrating STEM

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are identified as essential areas of study for Australia to maintain a high quality of life. Future prosperity depends on students studying in and across these areas in order to foster scientific and technological developments.

STEM, drawn from the four disciplines of Science (S), Technology (T), Engineering (E), and Mathematics (M) recognises the importance of this integration and its significance for Australia’s competitive future. These four disciplines are also referred to as the ‘Pillars of STEM’.

The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) aims to enhance engagement in STEM by developing practical, hands-on teaching and learning programs and resources that allow students to integrate their knowledge from the pillar subjects.

Advice on programming integrated STEM

Students benefit from STEM by learning about innovation and further developing their problem-solving skills. An enhanced understanding of STEM and its real-world applications has the capacity to increase career opportunities for students. Integrative STEM develops in students the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to actively contribute to society and influence scientific developments through innovation, both now and in the future.

This support guide has been designed to assist teachers developing STEM teaching programs and integrated units of work. It also provides some guidance for subsequent implementation. This work is based on projects being developed and trialled by NESA officers and the experiences of practitioners who have implemented integrated programs.

STEM involves cross-curricula Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subject outcomes. This guide shows how these outcomes can be incorporated in teaching and learning programs when working cross curricula.

Unit mapping and cross-curricular collaboration

Teacher collaboration to develop an understanding of what learning outcomes students will demonstrate is critical to the success of an integrated approach to STEM. Teachers will identify and discuss when and how this learning takes place in the individual subject areas. Schools must determine a model that is suitable for their specific needs. The model needs to complement the available timing, timetable and staffing allocation.

Some integrated model examples:

  • Team planned and team delivered
  • Team planned and content teacher delivered

Some questions to consider:

  • How can the content taught in the individual subjects be the driver for a project?
  • Can the content/project be taught collaboratively?
  • Is there a possibility for team teaching?
  • Can periods be combined or are there back-to-back science/mathematics or technology/mathematics lessons where students can work across the periods on the project?

Integration between subject areas can make the project content richer for students if the content is taught within a context. Discuss aligning units of study to complement each other and the project. Alternatively, work with the individual subject teachers to identify ways in which the teaching and learning in the individual subjects can provide examples to complement the project.
Identify:

  • the length of time the unit will take to teach
  • the syllabuses from which you are planning to work
  • the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics outcomes that are to be taught explicitly through the delivery of the unit of work. Start small. Consider developing a unit using just one outcome from each of the syllabuses.

STEM syllabus documents

See the syllabuses section for all NSW syllabuses.

  Science Technology & Engineering Mathematics
Primary Science K-10 (incorporating Science and Technology K-6) Mathematics K-10
Stage 4 Science 7-10 Mathematics 7-10
Stage 5 Science 7-10 Mathematics 7-10
(please note you need to determine which level of achievement for Stage 5:
5.1, 5.2 or 5.3)
Stage 6

STEM program content

pie chart showing science, tehnology, engineering and mathematics all with equal 25% sections
  • Think of the outcomes as the cities on a journey, each city is part of the challenge that will encourage and steer a student to the learning.
  • It is recommended when developing integrated STEM programs that are aiming to cover equal parts of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, that you engage with the subject area specialists. This will enhance the ability to explicitly target the learning of those outcomes.
  • Identify the explicit learning to take place and the outcomes that could be met through the unit of work (project). Where possible, aim to address the content from the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects equally.

Developing the unit of work

  • The major emphasis of STEM is the active involvement of students in the development and production of quality design projects. Design projects consist of a quality solution and a design folio.
  • Devise a problem or challenge to be investigated. The project scope should be broad and not limited to only one possible design solution.
  • When developing a problem or challenge try to use verbs such as: amend, control, develop, enhance, extend, improve, increase, renew or restore leaves the design solutions open to interpretation which in turn fosters creativity and critical thinking.

Examples:

Stage 4

"In groups, students are to prototype a device for cleaning dirty water in a time of natural disaster."

Science Technology Mandatory Mathematics
SC4-5WS collaboratively and individually produces a plan to investigate questions and problems 4.2.1 generates and communicates creative design ideas and solutions MA4-2WM applies appropriate mathematical techniques to solve problems

Stage 5

“In groups, students are to investigate the effect of the over use of playground areas within the school environment and design a solution to improve the areas.”

Science Design & Technology Industrial Technology- Engineering Mathematics 5.2

SC5-5WS produces a plan to investigate identified questions, hypotheses or problems, individually and collaboratively

SC5-14LW analyses interactions between components and processes within biological systems

5.1.2 applies and justifies an appropriate process of design when developing design ideas and solutions

5.5.1 uses appropriate techniques when communicating design ideas and solutions to a range of audiences

5.3.1 justifies the use of a range of relevant and associated materials

5.3.2
selects and uses appropriate materials for specific applications

5.6.1 evaluates products in terms of functional, economic, aesthetics and environmental qualities and quality of construction

MA5.2-2WM interprets mathematical or real-life situations, systematically applying appropriate strategies to solve problems

MA5.2-18SP selects appropriate methods to collect data, and constructs, compares, interprets and evaluates data displays, including tables, picture graphs and column graphs

MA5.2-4NA solves financial problems involving compound interest

Students should be exposed to a range of practical activities that enhance their knowledge of the individual subject area content. Identify activities the class can complete that would assist students in developing and communicating an informed design solution from the subject areas included.
Designing effective learning experiences requires the selection of activities that develop
students’ knowledge, understanding and skills and that allow evidence of learning to be gathered. Methods of gathering evidence could include informal teacher observation, questioning, peer evaluation and self-evaluation, as well as more structured assessment activities. Assessment should be an integral part of each unit of work and should support student learning.

For example, using the Stage 5 example above:

  • Conduct a traffic-flow observation of the school environment, collate, analyse and graph the data and write a scientific report.
  • Conduct a pH test of the soil in the area; generate a report on the environmental effects.
  • Devise a budget and costing for the development of the design solution
  • Lateral thinking challenges
  • Idea development skills – sketching, 3D modelling
  • Survey stakeholders (target market). What would they like to see in the playground?
  • Use the design ideas generated through lateral thinking, mind mapping, sketching and in 3D modelling programs to conduct a digital survey of which design solutions are preferred by the target market. Students can use the results in their evaluations and to inform their final design solution.

When planning

Consider:

  • Design work is a good vehicle for project-based learning. Science and Mathematics outcomes can be easily incorporated to strengthen the learning of all subject areas.
  • How can scientific investigation be used to inform design development and move the possible solution closer to a probable solution?
  • How can ‘Working mathematically’ outcomes be used to inform design development?

General notes

  • When developing units of work and programs schools need to consider the specific needs, interests and abilities of their students.
  • There is no one correct model. Schools should develop a model that suits the school’s curriculum structure, local needs, local interests and expertise.
  • Units should be developed that effectively use existing and available resources.
  • 'Working scientifically' and 'Working mathematically' outcomes are well suited to project-based learning. Ensure there is a balance between the skills outcomes and the knowledge and content outcomes.
  • When documenting the process students should develop a portfolio of learning that details their investigation, design development and evaluation. This could be used for formal assessment.
  • Teaching units and programs should recognise and reflect relevant state and Commonwealth legislation, regulations and standards including Workplace Health and Safety, Chemical Safety in Schools and Animal Welfare guidelines. Teachers need to be aware of activities that may require notification, certification, permission, permits and licences (such as flying drones).
  • Engage with the local community, successful Project Based Learning often embraces a public audience. Projects, challenges or problem-solving is more engaging for students if it is in a real-world context.

Sample STEM activities and units of work

The NSW Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics syllabuses recognise the importance of the key skills and understanding developed through Working Scientifically, Working Technologically and Working Mathematically. NSW syllabuses for STEM subjects and Vocational Education and Training (VET) pathways also provide many contexts for students to pursue their interests and abilities in STEM.

The following STEM resources integrate these skill sets. Integrative STEM consolidates and strengthens individual subject knowledge by enabling students to make links between content and empowering them with a deeper understanding.

View the sample STEM units of work.

View the sample STEM primary activities.

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