May 20

More than just Making: STEM in a PBL Model

“STEM in the school classroom context refers to the application of science, technology, engineering,

and mathematics to make real-world connections and solve problems collaboratively. Sound knowledge and skills in interdisciplinary STEM are predicated on student participation and achievement in core STEM disciplines.”

NSW Board of Studies, Technology and Education e-news (


Across the globe, there is currently a focus on STEM education, as collectively, different nations discover a lower participation rate in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and technology fields. This will lead to a decrease in fields that are necessary for nations to be globally competitive, and for nations to continue to thrive. In addition, the types of jobs available increasingly require problem solving skills, as opposed to rote learning of concepts. These STEM based courses are seen to mimic the same types of applied problem solving thinking that can be used in many non-stem based careers.

STEM, underpinned by Project Based Learning, encourages enquiry, innovation, and academic rigour within the fields of Mathematics, Science and Technology in order to create a contextual learning environment for students where knowledge is built through the construction of projects and solving of problems.


While construction of projects is important, STEM moves beyond the maker movement by focusing on solving problems real-world problems that make life better for people. “Innovation must turn knowledge into

new and better ways of doing things for the benefits of all Australians” Office of the Chief Scientist, 2013.


The purpose of STEM programs are to increase student engagement with science, technology and

mathematics subjects with the purpose of:

At Parramatta Marist we have implemented a four-prong approach to developing STEM. This includes programs developed for:  
  • Increasing student learning in these subjects
  • Increase student problem solving in general, by exposing students to subjects where problem solving is essential
  • Increase student exposure to, therefore increasing the likelihood of choosing STEM based careers, where there is a global shortage.
  • Curriculm
  • Cross Curriculum
  • Extra-Curricula
  • Community Engagement



In 2015, Parramatta Marist implemented the iSTEM Board-Endorsed Course developed by Maitland-Grossman High School. This syllabus is designed to be an intervention, to re-engage students with STEM based subjects, particularly engineering. This was a huge success, as evidenced by the 2016 round of student selections, where three times the number of students selected iSTEM as their first preference.  In 2016, this was expanded to include a 100 hour, core year 7 course, where students study integrated STEM within a project based learning pedagogy, modelled on the BOSTES curriculum outcomes for Science, Maths and Technology (Mandatory) course. While the 100 hour course does not take any time from the core subjects, it is the opportunity to teach those outcomes in a real world applied methodology.


Year 9 iSTEM


Students at Parramatta Marist High undertook a STEM project focusing on aerodynamics. Students looked to solve the real work problem “How can a drone be used in a natural disaster to save human lives”. Students were exposed to a range of Mathematical, Scientific and Engineering content including Bernoulli’s Principle, Newton’s Laws, ratios and distance while building their own drone. This project forced students to analyse the forces of flight and gain an understanding of how flight works and how this is influenced by STEM disciplines.


Year 7 STEM

It’s just rocket science

Students in 2016 used a bottle rocket launcher, and the scientific process to plan how they can drop a bottle rocket at a specific point on the oval. In order to do this, they must create scale models of the oval, observe differences in results based on different variables, and then experiment with different types of bottle rockets in order to see whether they can drop the package at the correct point. This data is then combined into a video explaining the maths and science behind the bottle rockets. 


Geometry Dash

Students learn to code in java with the use of the iPad app, Tickle, in order to program a choice of physical programming tools around a maze based on Geometry. Students learn the structures of programming with block-style code which can be applied to learn other programming languages. In order to solve the maze, students must measure and calculate different geometrical structures. Ramps will also be involved, so students must also look at speeds and calculate gravity in order to plan and then code where the Sphero will go. This unit of work begins a structured program, where students from years 7-10 participate in curriculum based coding experiences every year, progressing in difficulty up to year 10.  This program included a focus on iterative problem solving, where students were encouraged to follow the modified Polya’s problem solving process illustrated here.

polya problem solving

Extra Curricula

Students have also been given a number of opportunities to engage in extra curricula activities in STEM. This allows more students to engage in STEM based activities of their choice. There has been a huge amount of interest in these activities with hundreds of students across the five activities.  However, we need to remember that Competitions are not curriculum, and although useful for the engagement of students, the priority is implementation and improvement of curriculum in order to create long lasting growth.


Quberider Students in this program study space, culminating in developing an experiment where students program a Raspberry Pi micro controller that gets sent into space via a NASA Rocket.
F1 in schools Students in this program study forces, motion and aerodynamics in order to create a model F1 car, raced using carbon dioxide cylinders, along a 20 meter track.
Coding Club Students study a badge based differentiated program of study on programming in order to obtain badges as a reward for study. This culminates in entry to the STEM Video Game competition.
Genius Hour Based on Google’s concept of 20% time, students are able to spend an hour a week, working on anything that they are interested in, in the thoughts that giving time and resources to student passion will allow students to perform. This culminates in the YICT Explorers competition.
Aurecon Bridge Building 3 students from the intermediate year 9 maths class will be chosen who are disengaged with maths to determine whether engagement in practical application in maths will increase engagement in mathematics.


Community Engagement


Community engagement is an important component of STEM education, in order to raise awareness and to gather parent support of student interest in STEM. Parramatta Marist has received permission to be the Australian connection for Kids Hack Day, a global program to engage students in STEM based careers. Inspired by the global hackerspace movement and the lack of technology-related play and creativity in the classroom, Kids Hack Day is a means of closing the gap between education and technological creativity. On Kids Hack Day, students will get the opportunity to immerse themselves into emerging STEM technologies, such as robotics, programming and take part in structured, supervised activities which allows students to be creative and innovative.  Kids Hack Day is a 1-day event format where children and adults come together to “hack” and make new uses of everyday items and new technologies.


In year 10, students at Parramatta Marist for the past 4 years have run “Innovation Week”, a program where students spend a week out of their normal curriculum working on a passion project that meets a design need that they select. In the past, students have created projects from new sports to marketing materials, to ipad-watching boxes for their bedrooms to planes, drones and amphibious vehicles. This year, Innovation week will include a greater STEM focus, matched with a two day professional learning conference for teachers and the opportunity for parents to be involved by seeing guest speakers as well as the exhibition of their son’s work.



The final area where Parramatta Marist has chosen to implement STEM technologies is in support in regular subjects. The purpose of this is to raise awareness of the technologies within the context of their regular subjects, providing a purpose and a link to using STEM technologies. This has then caused an increase in the number of students applying to participate in STEM Extra curricula activities.  Examples of this include laser cutting of flip books for Religious education, creation of physical artefacts for History students who were asked to curate a museum exhibition, and creating circuits to test the salinity of water in Geography.  This is the next stage of technology integration, where students use industry level technology to construct physical objects to express their learning.


While there is a decrease overall in STEM based courses in the NSW HSC, particularly in mathematics and computing, Parramatta Marist has always had a strong history of student interest and success in these subjects.  However, problem solving in general is an area that is necessary in all subjects now. A focus on working technologically, thinking mathematically and scientifically is proposed as a method to increase student problem solving. This, along with the opportunity to explicitly teach problem solving strategies within a project based applied STEM model, should see students apply these strategies to other learning areas.  The challenge however, for STEM programs across the world is to ensure that programs do not simply stop at student engagement in STEM, but challenge students to have a higher purpose than just “making”. How can we ensure that STEM programs increase students’ problem solving ability and are not just a gut reaction to the worldwide “STEM-urgency”.

Posted May 20, 2016 by shortcomp in category Uncategorized

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