Science teacher resources to activate the next generation of STEM innovators

STELR has provided science teachers across the country with resources to improve engagement for students studying STEM.

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
ATSE ACTIVATE 2022 © Salty Dingo 2022

As the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering’s (ATSE’s) national school education initiative, STELR seeks to support Australia’s STEM-skilled future by exciting and engaging the next generation of scientists and technologists. Since its inception nearly 15 years ago, STELR has provided science teachers across the country with resources to improve engagement in the Australian Curriculum and the retention of students studying STEM.

STELR kits combine relevance and project-based learning to challenge students with real-world topics, like sustainability and climate change, enabling deep learning through issues young Australians are passionate about. On top of the wide variety of resources and kits available, STELR also provides regular webinars to raise the profile of national STEM career pathways and teacher professional development to enhance classroom practice.

To date, STELR has supported more than 900 secondary schools – a figure that represents almost one-third of all secondary schools in Australia, as well as a number of schools around the world. As one of Australia’s longest-running STEM Education Programs, STELR’s suite of educational equipment and resources has been proven to stand the test of time and the rigours of the classroom. With such a long history, the resources have seen a wide range of uses going beyond what ATSE ever anticipated, from entries into science competitions to teacher training courses.

STEM kits help students explore a world of possibilities

Paula Taylor is an Academy of Future Skills specialist STEM teacher, within the ACT Education Directorate.

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“The STELR kits are a very popular item that is booked and used by many of our school across the ACT because it covers so many curriculum areas across many year levels,” she told EducationDaily. “What makes them exciting is that it allows for students to be creative and explore their own driving questions as there are so many variations and possibilities within the kits. The data collection systems keep students engaged as they continually strive for better results during their design testing phases.”

ACT primary and high schools currently use the STELR homes kits to look at materials and their properties with respect to chemistry and design and technologies,” Ms Taylor says. “This allows them to perform experiments on the materials and go further by designing and testing their own homes based on their results while using the kits. Our students also use the generating electricity kits such as the wind turbines and solar panels. This allows them to test several variables to determine the best design aspects as they strive to generate the highest voltage.”

Because the Australian Curriculum also includes sustainability as a cross-curriculum priority, Ms Taylor says STELR kits are ideal for demonstrating our commitment to green energy alternatives.

“Our college students are also using the kits to conduct inquiries in both earth and environmental science and senior science courses,” she told EducationDaily.

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“The STELR homes are a great starting point for students to begin integrating technology so that they can see how sustainability practices can also include smart home technologies. We use the STELR homes to teach coding and programming to solve authentic problems such as turning lights on or off or opening windows as a response to the external environment.”

Inspiring innovative thinkers

By providing a foundation for excellent scientific thinking and reasoning skills, while still enabling students to develop their own investigations, Ms Taylor says students are invited to practice the dispositions of being a scientist while learning very relevant science concepts, such as heat transfer, properties of materials and electric circuits, at the same time.

“Students use mathematics to analyse their results to evaluate their designs and make improvements. Throughout the whole process, students are using their soft skills as they work within collaborative teams to design their experiments and to discuss their thinking,” Ms Taylor says. “The kits have proven themselves to be very engaging to learners of all ages who are learning so many skills and concepts in an authentic way to solve real problems.”

Academy of Future Skills specialist STEM teacher Caroline Shultz is also with the ACT Education Directorate and says she utilises the kits because “I only have to spend the first session introducing the students to the kits and then after that they can be self-sufficient in setting up their investigations”.

“Having access to all the equipment in one box allows them to explore the materials and decide what is the next factor they want to investigate, this allows them greater autonomy,” she told EducationDaily.

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More girls showing interest in STEM

Kylie Walker is ATSE CEO and says, although more still needs to be done to achieve genuine equity, “more girls are becoming interested in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)”.

“This has been shown through reports such as recent editions of the Federal Government’s STEM Equity Monitor and very strong interest in the Elevate: Boosting Diversity in STEM scholarships program,” she told EducationDaily.

“But the rate of increase is very slow and still evolving, with significant variation between science and engineering disciplines. hands-on activities like STELR that provide girls with real-world challenges – particularly related to climate change and sustainable energy – are key programs for stimulating intertest in STEM. Teachers report that more girls are interested in taking up further study in STEM as a direct result of the introduction of our STELR kits.”

The kits include a range of resources which support students to explore energy and sustainability.

“Our suite of energy kits contain a range of wind and solar related equipment, such as solar panels, wind turbines with various sizes of blades, and testing equipment such as lights, buzzers and meters to measure energy output. They can even design and 3D print their own turbine blades to bring their ideas to life and test them with real-world data. “

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In the solar car kit, students will find everything they need to build a solar-powered vehicle, including an adjustable gear box and wheel options, and a capacitor which can be charged like a battery by solar power or conventional power to simulate a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV – like a Tesla).

“Our Sustainable House kit contains wall and roof framing for students to construct their own scale house, as well as equipment like insulation materials, heating panels, fans and sensors to test a range of modern solutions to energy passive housing,” Ms Walker says.

“Teachers can help them tailor the challenge to conditions in their own location and foster rich questioning and critical thinking as they consider and reflect on their own house design.”

STEM education can lead many places

Careers powered by STEM education are careers in creative problem-solving,” Ms Walker says. With that in mind, she believes we need to rethink the way we see We need to rethink the way we see STEM education and where it can lead people.

“Just because someone studies theoretical physics or chemistry, it doesn’t mean they have to become a physicist or chemist to be successful. A STEM education teaches you how to be analytical, how to be creative and methodical in solving complex challenges, and how to use a multidisciplinary approach to create and test innovative solutions,” she told EducationDaily.

“This can be everything from using these skills to better understand and develop farming techniques, or supply chains, to planning sustainable communities, getting involved in clean energy, or using new technologies to understand people’s health needs. A STEM education doesn’t limit students to a research career, it gives them lifelong skills which can help them in whatever career or purpose they choose to pursue.”

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Taking teaching to the next level

Professional development is really important early on in a teacher’s journey, with ATSE resources available to build self-efficacy as well as setting educators up to use the resources in a way that best suits their teaching style, location and students’ needs.

“We are always amazed at just how creative teachers can be in the diverse ways they apply our resources to their classroom, and a big part of our ongoing professional development is networking teachers together to share these wonderful examples of quality pedagogy and practice,” Ms Walker says.

STEM excites her, she says, because of “the possibilities it unlocks for our future, and for the next generation”.

“Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are fundamentally creative endeavours – they’re unlocking the secrets of the universe and changing the way in which we live every day,” Ms Walker told EducationDaily.

“Every discovery and innovation is a revelation – imagine being the first person in the world to understand how something works, or to create a better way of tackling a persistent problem.”

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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]