“Primary school kids are the key. if you don’t engage them early in STEM thinking, by high school it’s too late,” Chloe says, “but STEM resources and programs for primary school students are hard to come by and this was a real stumbling block – most of what I could find was for high schools”.
That was until Chloe found Questacon’s Engineering is Elementary program. Originally developed by the Museum of Science in Boston, it has been adapted for Australian educators by Questacon.
Using engineering challenges to introduce students to STEM concepts, Engineering is Elementary provided the real-world content, critical thinking and problem solving Chloe was looking for.
“The program makes such a difference. It builds a positive STEM identity for our kids. It’s not even a ‘lightbulb’ moment for them, it’s like their brains are exploding!
“It’s so much more than just learning the concepts; a key benefit is the growth mindset. If students haven’t been exposed to STEM or engineering, they think there’s just one right answer to a question. By adding the real-world context through, they suddenly understand that they’re trying to actually fix things and make a difference.”
Chloe has also noticed some add-on benefits. “The students get so immersed in the class, they’re able to overcome their differences in abilities,” she explains, “for students, it changes the classroom gap – everyone is on an even playing field. Even if a student can’t write well, they can come up with all sorts of great verbal ideas. It’s hands-on and interactive, it’s about communication and collaboration.”
The sessions are so popular with the students that the school has allowed for longer lessons when required. “We allocate double lessons so the students can get more done and they still say, ‘can’t we just have more time, can’t we stay longer?’”
For Chloe, the other key part of the program’s success is building the skills and confidence of teachers within the workshops. “It empowers teachers as well as students. I found it really engaging, so it made it easy to teach.
“For each module you [the teachers] work through the engineering design process and build what the students will build, bouncing ideas off other teachers. After the workshop you get sent a big box of resources to use with the class over the term.”
Chloe emphasises that the program is accessible for all teachers and students, regardless of their STEM knowledge. “The Questacon team is so welcoming, anyone can do it – your background doesn’t matter. The presenters have passion and spark, and they ignite that spark in others.
“It really empowers students and teachers alike. You can hear the excitement in their voices – sharing ideas and talking to each other about different ways of doing things.”
The flow-on effect of enthusiasm from Questacon, to teacher, to student, can help boost STEM knowledge and inspire little minds, wherever they are across Australia.
Questacon Educator Programs, including Engineering is Elementary, are supported by our ‘Diamond Partner’, the Department of Defence.
The program is available to teachers anywhere in Australia through online or in-person modules.