Big ideas: Festival encourages STEM learning in partnership

Building his own caravan from scratch taught Andrew Di Lizio a thing or two about resilience.

It’s a skill the mechanical engineer and qualified primary teacher says is crucial to the education he is helping to deliver as joint STEM coordinator at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Primary School and St Ursula’s College Kingsgrove.

Last week, the college hosted its first ‘Festival of Big Ideas’ with augmented and virtual reality tasks, coding, a paper plane competition and solar car challenge among the event highlights.

St Ursula’s Year 7 and 8 students were impressed with the primary school students who explained how electrical circuits work to them before building solar cars to race.

“For the solar-powered car challenge, I give students a kit without instructions and a bit of information about what we are hoping to achieve,” Mr Di Lizio said.

“We want to build problem-solving skills and resilience; so that when students hit road blocks they are confident they can overcome them. Very early on in the task they’re tentative to try things and by the end they are hands-on and deep into it, having fun and learning without even realizing it.”

Mr Di Lizio said the schools were at the beginning of their joint STEM journey and his role was a new one.

“It’s fresh – there’s no guide to follow so we’re trying to see what works well,” he said. “My hope is that we can develop our students critical STEM skills throughout their education to ensure they are as prepared as possible for challenges they face in future study, work and life.”

Students applied their creativity, critical thinking, digital and problem-solving skills to several challenges throughout the week of the festival.

They also had the chance to learn from industry experts, with Microsoft-facilitated coding workshops and events by Fizzics Education, STEM Punks and Kaleidoscope Science.

Along with the hands-on challenges, the school ran activities in the library that allowed students to experiment with educational circuit boards called micro:bits, and students from Years 5 and 7 pitched micro-farm concepts. The winning design will be used to guide the development of an outdoor learning garden that will drive authentic STEM learning opportunities in the future.

We want to build problem-solving skills and resilience, so that when students hit road blocks they are confident they can overcome them.

– Andrew Di Lizio

Year 10 design students including Sophia Staikos used augmented reality app CoSpaces to extend the house design project they presented for their most recent assessment.

“We learn about something called conversation space in design – choosing the areas that are easy to walk around to make sure that everything is spaced out accurately,” Sophia said.

“CoSpaces could be useful for this because we can take a virtual walk through the home and alter the design easily if we don’t like how something is positioned.”

Our Lady of Fatima acting principal Margrita Cutrupi said the festival activities demonstrated how transferrable the skills gained in primary school were to the secondary school environment.

Both the college and primary school offer the Newman Selective Gifted Education Program and collaborate on STEM projects including the festival.

“The festival has been tremendous in terms of the learning that has been made available to the children and there is potential for growth next year,” she said.

“This is the beauty of collaborative partnerships – we learn from each other.”

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