As their peers while away the July school holidays at home, Domremy College Five Dock students Velia Fierro and Simona Noulas will experience the moon’s gravitational pull and other simulations used to train astronauts for space missions.
The Year 8 students are the first of four at the College to take part in a two-week intensive Junior Space Program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Houston, Texas. Year 12 student Odelia Sze-To and Celeste Jackson-Snow, in Year 10, will take part in the Senior Space program in December.
For Odelia, who studies Physics, Chemistry and 4-Unit Mathematics and has an interest in aeronautical engineering, the visit is a window to a future career. “For me it does apply because in Year 12 Physics we do units on space and motors and that links with rockets and escape velocity,” she said.
We only need one of these girls to end up in the space field to make a massive difference.
Principal Vivienne Awad is the NSW representative for the Alliance of Girls Schools, which decided to create a combined school trip to NASA to avoid students missing out on the experience. Domremy is the only non-independent Sydney girls’ school within the alliance.
“People think NASA is a pipe dream,” she said. “If someone had asked Odelia in Year 7 ‘Do you want to go to NASA?’ she would have said yes, but if she was asked do you think you’ll get there her answer would have been never.
“How much more real can it be for someone who is thinking about astrophysics or IT and who loves space to have the opportunity to work with a simulated Mars Rover experience?
“We’re always talking about girls breaking the glass ceiling, so for me to be able to say to these kids you can do anything is brilliant. We only need one of these girls to end up in the space field to make a massive difference.”
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are a strong focus at Domremy, which allows students to experiment with technology through projects such as a Lego Robotics competition in August, where students will build and code a robot to dance within a 2.4 metre square. Opposition leader Bill Shorten visited the school in May to launch his government’s policy on STEM education at high school and university level.
Domremy’s teachers are also researching a potential project to create prosthetics for children in developing countries using the school’s 3-D printers. “Six of our teachers are mentored by Science, Maths Engineering and Technology professors at Sydney University to try to develop more authentic learning experiences,” Ms Awad said.
“In Year 9 Science, the girls are working on an eCoMove software package. They go online and explore why fish are dying in a particular habitat, testing water quality and environment – real world-type fact finding. Their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”
There’s always the thought of what is out there in the world and outside of Earth.
Year 7 students also took part in a NASA Live videoconference on May 4. Velia and Simona depart for Houston on June 26. Ms Awad said both were pushing themselves beyond Year 8 Maths content which includes basic algebra.
Velia said she was looking forward to working on the space activities in groups with other people and seeing what their interests were. She said the 1/6 micro gravity chair, modelled after one Apollo astronauts used for moon walk training, would be a highlight of the trip. The chair is designed to simulate the Moon’s gravitational pull, which is 1/6 of the Earth’s.
“I always really liked Science, especially from primary school where it was really fascinating to learn about planets,” Velia said. “I wanted to go to NASA because it’s a really good experience to have and to keep in the back of your mind.”
Simona said the trip would be a great opportunity to ask questions. “There’s always the thought of what is out there in the world and outside of Earth, and there’s so many questions people of younger ages haven’t really asked and want answered,” she said.
STEM in focus:
- About 18% of the Australian workforce has STEM qualifications. Design, engineering, science, transport and ICT are the fastest growing occupations.
- 44% of employers have difficulty recruiting STEM qualified workers.
- 75% of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills and knowledge.
- 10% or less of high school students in Australia take STEM subjects.
- In NSW, the number of girls not studying HSC Maths increased from 5% to 21.8% in 10 years.
- 8% of girls studied one Maths and one Science subject for the 2011 HSC, making the gender disparity in Maths and Science participation greater than in the 1980s.
Source: Progressing STEM Skills in Australia, Australian Industry Group report, March 2015