Focus on creativity and invention

In the Media: The Australian, March 7-8 2020 by Rosanne Barrett

Strathcona Girls Grammar head of digital and innovation Michelle Dennis guides her pupils in a computer studies class Creativity and collaboration are key when the girls at Strathcona Girls Grammar in Melbourne take to the Tinker Train. The Australian award-winning initiative teaches problem-solving and encourages STEM thinking through “tinkering” and a process of design and trial and error.
Strathcona’s Head of Digital and Innovation Michelle Dennis says the program allows students to learn through experience, use that knowledge, then teach others.
“We look for ways the technology is going to help the students be more engaged and push
it further, or link them to an expert or a new idea,” she says. “Tinker Train moves beyond the learning to the applying.”

The model has been used for Year 6 girls to investigate sustainability and energy use in their homes. They created their own models of future sustainable homes with working wind-powered lights, automatic sun shades and hydroelectricity. In other year groups, the girls have used the game Minecraft to explore the Victorian goldfields, set up golf courses for mini-robots, and designed a new chair for the Baby Bear in Goldilocks. The educators seek to shift the student experience from passive learning to experimentation and creating. It follows a progression of  understanding an issue, identifying a specific part of the problem, brainstorming ideas, creating prototype solutions and sharing their discoveries.

Dennis says across the program they frame their technology discussions around collaborating, creation and outcomes, rather than the gadgetry and tools involved. “We think that’s really important that we show girls that when you’re doing computer science or digital technologies, there is that creative element to it,” she said. “They are inventing and making something for a purpose. It’s not just learning to code for coding sake.”

Dior Lekkas, 12, says not only is it important to learn about technology, but it is fun. Our generation is more technology-based and most jobs are going to be on computers in the future,” she says. “I love studying Digital Futures because it’s fun, and you get to learn new things on devices. I enjoy learning how to code in Minecraft and build new sorts of things.”

In the higher grades Dennis says she has used Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets in the biology classroom so the girls can experience the three-dimensional shape of a protein, or other three-dimensional model to conceptualise a chemical element. “By giving them those experiences early, it means they start adapting to this idea that technology will bring about new things,” she says. “But it’s also a better way to learn because you’re experiencing it, rather than just seeing it in a text book.”

She says it is critical for to keep girls and women engaged in STEM throughout their life, given the critical impact technology was having on society. “Our world is shaped by technology, not just in a physical way but also in the way that we interact with each other, the way we work,” she says.

“If women aren’t involved in creating that future, then our voices can’t be heard.

“If I can get girls to see that not only can they do it, but it’s really fun and interesting to use technology to create and make things and invent, then they’re more likely to continue doing it,” she says. ‘Our world is shaped by technology, not just in a physical way but also in the way we interact with each other, the way we work.’

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Hearld Sun heading March 2020

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The Australian - IWD

Lifelong learning key to the future

big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
He says recasting some of the technical disciplines, such as engineering, into a humanfocused
discipline could result in an increasing interest from women.
The Business Council of Australia has suggested an overhaul of the vocational and tertiary
education systems with a shared oversight body and better information about the range of
It has called for that same culture of lifelong learning, for initial qualifications for a strong
foundation, and then modules to upskill and retrain throughout careers.
And instead of separate funding for universities and vocational training, the BCA says an
individual education “account” would allow promote individual choices.
The corporate sector’s peak body has also called for a focus on STEM, as technology
continues to transform the economy. Across the education system, STEM skills and
knowledge are increasingly sought after – but not found.
While the Australian Government pours millions into STEM advancement and advocacy,
institutions continue to struggle to attract, retain and progress women.
Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews says parents and teachers
should encourage STEM participation.
“It’s easy as parents to brush off a dislike of maths or science with an, ‘It’s OK, I didn’t do
well and I turned out OK’,” she says. “We need to change that attitude and make STEM a
priority for our kids. We need them to keep engaging students in a way that ensures both
girls and boys are equally supported in the pursuit of STEM.”
Tech Girls Movement founder and STEM educator Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen says teachers
need to be enabled and supported to do that: “It’s challenging for teachers to have to do
the next big thing.”
Teachers need the tools, training and confidence to deliver STEM and other subjects in an
inspiring way. Beekhuyzen says there is a push to teach coding, but points to forecasts
indicate half the current coding jobs won’t exist in the future.
So what are young people to do? Beekhuyzen says it all comes back to resilience and
adaptability. Her own program inspired Kira Molloy, 20, to get into technology. She is now
on a New Colombo Plan Scholarship, studying at the top-ranking National University of
Singapore. “Before I got involved with the Tech Girls Program, I had never considered
studying computer science and was set on studying medicine,” she says. “From the
experiences I had through the Tech Girl program I was able to go to QUT and Google in
Sydney and see amazing technologies and amazing women leading the field. This ignited a
passion for me to pursue a career in technology.”
Lifelong learning key to the future – The Australian, 3/7/2020 10/3/20, 11(21 am Page 5 of 5
At the coalface of girls’ education, Strathcona Girls Grammar Head of Digital Learning and
Innovation Michelle Dennis says the most important skills will be those that can’t be taught
from a book.
“A lot of future-proofing comes down to giving students the opportunity to encounter new
experiences,” she says.
And national award-winning science teacher Sarah Chapman, from Townsville State High
School, says future-proofing involves questioning and assessing information, from
humanities and religion, to arts and sciences.
“A lot of these things are uncomfortable for young people,” she says. “It needs to be more
of the norm.”

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