Students thrive on 'life-changing' workshop with engineers Wednesday, 23 January 2019

It seems the hands-on way of engineers, showing by example and communicating the right information in the right way, are still the best avenues to open the world of STEM and engineering to students.

A workshop in which high school students worked alongside engineers building prosthetic hands for use by children in India was dubbed a "life-changing" event by many of the Year 8s who participated from Mabel Park School in Queensland.

They took part in the Helping Hands program run by the Origin Foundation that provides prosthetics to children injured by land mines, electrocution or illness. The claw-like prosthetics are made of plastic and metal and, while complicated, can be assembled in around 45 minutes.

Feedback from the workshop was so positive that it amazed teachers. Stacey King, head of maths and science at the school, has spent most of the last year re-arranging STEM learning. She told Australian Teacher Magazine how she was struck by the gravity of the feedback from female students.

“Almost half the students said it was 'life-changing' for them, so that’s pretty powerful," King said. “And then the other half said it was ‘very valuable’ to learn."

She added that one student had written, "I had fun and I hope we do more like this". King said teachers can't ignore that kind of feedback.

"That one quote has now given me a really strong vision to offer more of these opportunities, so much so that we are going to re-write our programs around STEM professionals coming into schools,” King revealed.

Developing strong connections with STEM professionals is one of King's major goals for the school.

“We are trying to connect our girls particularly to industries that they might not initially think are interesting or something that they could get passionate about," she said.

King has established the Girls Excelling in Maths and Science (GEMS) initiative to dispel myths around female students' learning abilities and to expose them to career avenues and has already established a link with CSIRO with the STEM Professionals in Schools program.

“Suddenly it opens up this realm of possibility so they can imagine social problems or a business idea and they can connect STEM to that and see that it’s something that actually might interest them," King explained. "So, that has been a real wake-up call for a lot of the students."

The Helping Hands program has been rolled out across two Queensland schools and will soon go to Melbourne and Adelaide, with plans to take it nationally.

Image: via Education HQ Australia.