Deadly STEM innovation meets ancient knowledge (and maybe a few erupting volcanoes)

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

To celebrate National Science Week, 12 August – 20 August, EducationDaily is publishing a series of STEM-focused articles featuring inspiring and innovative ideas.

When Assistant Principal Jayne Emms walks into the Towradgi Public School Science Fair at lunchtime today, she’s looking forward to seeing the creative results of inspired scientific minds.

“From what I’ve seen so far, the projects range to checking how fast different brands and types of breads go mouldy, to seeing if different types of resin are more adhesive than others, and if changes in temperature affect that,” she says. “I think I’ll probably also see quite a few volcanoes.”

It’s the second year the 70-year old school in Fairy Meadow, on the outskirts of Wollongong, has run the Science Fair – an initiative Ms Emms herself implemented in 2022.

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With around 170 students from prep to year six making up the community of the regional school, Ms Emms says offering an opt-in entry to the school science fair has attracted a great response, with more than fifty per cent of all students taking part in displaying their scientific discoveries, and parents, carers and school community members all invited to explore.

Ms Emms says her experience as a primary teacher is strengthened by a passionate interest in science – a love that was nurtured in a previous three-year stint working at Science Space, a science museum and planetarium in Wollongong, while she was completing her teaching degree.

“I wasn’t interested in science as a kid, because it was so hands-off and paper-driven back then,” she told EducationDaily.

But getting the chance to see the curiosity and wonder of her students when they connected with hands-on science knowledge thanks to the CSIRO-led two-way science program, has reinforced everything she loves about it now.

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What is two-way science learning?

The unique two-way science approach promotes Indigenous leadership in education, and fosters partnerships between schools, communities and scientists.

This initiative aims to increase engagement and retention of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students in STEM educational pathways, STEM employment and/or future education through culture and on Country.

Background: Deadly in Generation STEM

The free program is currently being delivered in Kamilaroi Country (Moree) and Dharawal Country (Illawarra), where high-growth industries, such as advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, and Information and Communications Technology will generate new STEM jobs over the coming years.

Deadly in Generation STEM takes a community-driven approach to deliver and support activities, drawing connections between Indigenous STEM knowledges and local STEM industries. The initiative provides authentic and engaging STEM learning, helping to strengthen students’ connection with the Country and culture where they live.

Deadly in Generation STEM uses CSIRO’s I2S2 resources and Two-Way Science framework.

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Anna Lau, Program Manager, Generation STEM says, “Deadly in Generation STEM celebrates Indigenous Science in all its wonderful diversity across Australia”.

“Indigenous ways of understanding and looking after Country can help us solve the challenges facing Australia and the rest of the world,” she told EducationDaily.

Sharing knowledge inspires new ideas

By equipping the teachers with this training, that learning was then passed on to students – and the genesis of this week’s Science Fair (held today, 16 August) and Science Celebration Assembly (being held this Friday, 18 August) was born.

“Deadly in Generation STEM delivered Teacher Professional Learning to support Towradgi Primary School in embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scientific knowledges into the school’s learning program,” Ms Lau says. “This is done through hands-on inquiry projects, aimed at increasing student engagement and achievement in STEM, and incorporating CSIRO’s Two-Way Science framework.”

The school’s choice to engage in the Deadly In Generation STEM program offered by CSIRO was not, Ms Emms says, made because the school’s own student cohort is largely Indigenous – “we have around 15 students who identify that way” – but because “as educators, we are at the forefront of being truth-tellers of Aboriginal history”.

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“We really embed it in our key areas at school here at Towradgi,” she says. “We have a strong Aboriginal education focus.”

Throughout the school year, in the lead-up to the science fair, the Deadly in STEM projects and lessons supported science learning through a primary school-aged lens by having Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal knowledge embedded in each hands-on inquiry task.

“The projects help the students learn how First Nations people maintain a connection to Country and how they look after environments and keep them safe and thriving,” Ms Emms told EducationDaily.

With many of the teaching staff coming from an education background similar to that of Ms Emms’ – in an era when science was taught in a paper-based, text book-style – the tasks created deeper levels of engagement with science and motivated the teachers to embrace the two-way science framework that is at the heart of the Deadly in Generation STEM initiative.

For the theme at this year’s school science fair, Ms Emms say they have stuck with the official theme of National Science Week 2023Innovation: Powering Future Industries – and combined this with the theme of the recent NSW Education Week theme, which focused on celebrating 175 years of education in the state.

“We’ve explored how science has allowed for innovation to happen over the course of history, as well as bringing in the indigenous perspective and links to local culture and locally relevant information,” Ms Emms told EducationDaily.

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At this week’s special Science Week assembly, each of the school’s classes will present their two-way science activity and inquiry they engaged in through the Deadly in Generation STEM learning.


“I think that students have a lot more of a sense of what STEM is – and that there are more opportunities available,” Ms Emms says. “A lot of the skills involved in STEM are so transferable and imperative to a range of careers.

The CSIRO-led two-way science framework, says Ms Emms, “enhances what we already do at our school”.

“Getting students to understand and build their local indigenous knowledge with their local elders, as well as creating deeper respect and connection for meaningful sites – and how they can create links to their own lives and futures – is really important.”

Deadly in Generation STEM is part of Generation STEM. Managed by CSIRO, Generation STEM is made possible by the NSW Government’s $25 million endowment to the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF).

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The Science Fair at the school is a special part of Science Week celebrations.
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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]