Launch of living STEM program celebrates Australia’s first Indigenous scientists

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, and Chevron Australia have launched a new Living STEM program today, aimed at connecting students to Indigenous scientific knowledge in the classroom.

The Living STEM program supports primary and secondary schools to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scientific knowledge in communities and classrooms through hands-on projects to increase student engagement and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM).

Living STEM works with schools and communities to develop lessons that connect local Indigenous knowledge with the Australian science curriculum. It’s a program that recognises and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s first scientists, first engineers, and first mathematicians.

Read more: CDU students ready to compete Indigenous Games

The program’s name was chosen to reflect that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge is shaping the future of STEM education as a living network, intertwined with the Australian STEM curriculum and knowledge systems.

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Ruth Carr, Director, CSIRO Education and Outreach, said Living STEM draws on community engagement principles of Two-way Science – developed with Aboriginal desert schools to connect the cultural knowledge of the local community with Western science and the Australian curriculum.

“The Two-way Science model allows students to explore STEM subjects that value and connect with their cultural identity, leading to increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning,” Ms Carr said. “Living STEM is another way to connect students to science in a meaningful and culturally interconnected way,”

Previous evaluation of this approach demonstrates the benefit of culturally relevant and tailored lessons that engage students, but also make deeper connections with their families and communities who may otherwise experience barriers to engage with their child’s education.

Living STEM builds on CSIRO’s strengths in working with communities to design and deliver STEM education programs that embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges,” Ms Carr said.

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By seeing local culture reflected in the school learning program, the program aims to offer particular benefits for Aboriginal student wellbeing, engagement and achievement, as well as delivering rich and engaging STEM learning opportunities and a deeper understanding of the country and culture where they live.

The program will include:

  • Professional development for teachers
  • Events and seminars
  • Workshops and community engagement
  • Classroom resources.

Chevron Australia’s General Manager Asset Development, Michelle LaPoint, said that the company is proud to partner with CSIRO to deliver the Living STEM program.

Living STEM encapsulates the benefits of learning from the world’s oldest continuing living culture and deepening the connection between First Nations’ people and school children across Western Australia,” Ms La Point said.

The first workshop

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On Monday 24 July 2023, CSIRO held the first Living STEM knowledge-sharing and curriculum planning workshop with West Pilbara primary and secondary school Educators and Rangers from Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC).

MAC Ranger Sarah Hicks said she enjoyed developing classroom activities in the workshop, such as showing local school educators how to make flour from native seeds, using a grindstone.

She also appreciated opportunities for Rangers to share knowledge about Murujuga’s seasonal plants, ancient rock art depicting extinct megafauna and other aspects of Indigenous culture and history.

“The two-way learning is good,” Ms Hicks said. “When I was at school, two-way learning mostly just happened during NAIDOC Week.”

Living STEM will grow in stages, starting with schools and communities in Western Australia’s West Pilbara region.

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An initial intake of 30 teachers and Aboriginal and Islander education officers is complete, with a celebratory showcase event planned for November 2023.

MAC Ranger Coordinator Peter Cooper, who is a member of the Murujuga Circle of Elders, said it was good that “old science and new science” would be taught in schools.

“Some Aboriginal kids can go out into the bush with their families and learn that way, but teaching in school is important too because that way all the kids benefit,” he said.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live