1. Introduction

SILO is an acronym for Scientifically Integrated Learning Outcomes.  It is also a play on words because education as a sector has often been criticised for teaching in silos where subjects are taught in isolation to each other.  Historically, this has largely been the result of the institutional nature of education where students physically move from one class to the next.  The SILO project takes a different approach by using project-based learning to integrate the learning outcomes within the existing Australian Curriculum which relate to STEM. Although the SILO project attempts to address the international focus on improving STEM education, some of the research questions also seek to address translation of research which is about bridging the gap between theory and practice.  The three research questions are:

There has been an international movement to increase student engagement and expertise in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics since the United States National Science Foundation started using the STEM acronym in 2001.  Most attempts to boost the profile of STEM seek to integrate STEM into the curriculum.  The acronym STEM is not in the Australian curriculum as STEM content is spread throughout the component areas.  “Engineering often provides a context for STEM learning” (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2016, p. 6) but the word ‘engineering’ is not in the Australian curriculum either.  The design and digital technologies learning area covers design (i.e. engineering) and digital technologies (i.e. Information and Communication Technologies or ICT).

The STEM Connections Project (ACARA, 2016) sought to integrate STEM learning in an Australian context.  The origins of the project preceded the publication of the National STEM School Education Strategy 2016–2026 (Education Council, 2015) but “it did address all the areas for action identified in the strategy, either directly or indirectly” (ACARA, 2016, p. 5).  Perhaps the most significant findings from the STEM Connections Project related to helping to understand the challenges faced by both teachers and students.  Students were reported to have often felt like they were lost in the new freedom afforded to them by project-based learning.  For staff, the most significant challenge related to the open-ended nature of the various projects and “the need to surrender their role as leader of learning and subject expert to allow greater autonomy for students” (ACARA, 2016, p. 19).  These issues are significant and not easily solved as they represent a fundamental shift away from how teaching and learning often occurs in schools. 

Ironically, the biggest obstacle of all was the mundane but critical issue of timetabling and how to make room for innovative STEM projects “as timetabling structures do not necessarily have the flexibility to accommodate such projects” (ACARA, 2016, p. 20).  The implementation plan for the current study addresses this concern directly by integrating other content areas into each project for one hour each day.  Careful cross-referencing has been done for all the learning areas for which a generalist primary school teacher is responsible to justify this use of time.  It also presents a logistical framework to change how STEM education is implemented in primary schools by working within existing school structures and curriculum constraints.  

Primary schools have an inherent flexibility due to the localised nature of each classroom, but the timetable is generally still structured around clearly delineated blocks of learning such as literacy groups (2 hours), numeracy (1 hour), science once or twice a week and various specialist subjects.  As the existing focus on literacy and numeracy is widely considered to be indispensable, any attempt to increase participation in STEM needs to enhance literacy and numeracy too. 

This research seeks to identify 28 STEM outcomes on which projects which can be built to embody learning throughout the primary years.  It aims to address the most difficult issues directly, namely timetabling and the ‘crowded curriculum’ through integration using the design process.  There are several variations of the design process but the one adopted here is TMI (Think, Make, Improve) first proposed by Martinez and Stager in 2013.  “Reducing the process to three steps minimises talking and maximises doing” (Martinez & Stager, 2019, p. 54).  TMI is an example of the maxim to “make everything as simple as possible but not simpler” which is widely attributed to Albert Einstein.  Children are unlikely to forget the three steps in TMI in contrast to existing design models which “may be too wordy or abstract for young learners” (Martinez & Stager, 2019, p. 54).

The responsible researcher for the SILO project is Associate Professor Brendan Jacobs, Head of Department STEM Education, from the University of New England.  Brendan can be contacted via email at bjacobs7@une.edu.au

 

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