There are kids moonwalking in the Mallee, and designing a garden for Mars. There are students making robots in Central Australia. All of these students are visited by our superstar STEM volunteers.

Some students walk to school, but at Tempy Primary School the students walk … in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong. Simulating the moonwalk (no, not that moon walk!) is just one of the activities that these lucky students experience.

It’s one small step for these moonwalking, Mars-gardening students

There are only 18 students enrolled in Tempy Primary School, in the far north-west of Victoria. But their appetite for space science is … astronomical.

The school’s principal Cheryl Torpey, and teacher Kaitlin Pappin, were looking for ways to encourage deeper level learning for their students. So they called on the help of scientist Jurg Schutz. Enter Jurg!

Jurg is a Senior Research Scientist in advanced fibre structures at our Waurn Ponds site, near Melbourne. He’s also one of the volunteers in our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Professionals in Schools program.

“The kids love Jurg,” Cheryl says, “It’s his ability to make the complex simple, they can’t wait for him to visit again!”

Jurg has been working with Cheryl, Kaitlin and the Tempy children for the past nine years. Last year, the students learned all about how we could sustain life on Mars. They got the chance to do virtual reality space walks, they learned about jet propulsion, they 3D printed inventions that they designed for life in space, and designed a Martian vegetable garden.

Since his first visit in 2010, the partnership has grown from strength to strength. Jurg’s visit now extends over two days and often involves nearby schools in the Science Week activities.

For Jurg and the teachers, these two days can take up to six months of preparation. They work together, spending hours on the phone to create the most educational (and fun!) activities for the students.

“Access to high-speed internet is extremely limited in the rural Mallee district, so we need to plan my visit carefully – we need to make sure we have all the resources we need ahead of time,” Jurg says.

Thanks to the STEM Professionals in Schools program, STEM has become an integral part of learning at Tempy, and it’s one of the core parts of the school’s strategic plan, alongside numeracy and literacy.

“We love the opportunity to celebrate this wonderful program,” Cheryl says. “It’s the long-term nature of the partnership that has really enabled us to build our relationship, and it’s what makes STEM Professionals in Schools unique.”  Jurg echoes this sentiment: for him, mutual trust in the partnership is one of the highlights of his time volunteering with the Tempy Primary School. That, and an little moonwalking, perhaps?!

Someone call a professional … a STEM professional

With partnerships across Australia, STEM Professionals in Schools is Australia’s leading volunteer education in the STEM fields. The program partners up teachers with STEM professionals, who bring real-world experience into the classroom.

For the students, it’s a rare opportunity to meet a real scientist working in the field, and to ask them what it’s like to do their job. The STEM professionals come from all sorts of backgrounds, from botany to space technology. We deliver this program, which is funded by our partners at the Department of Education. Our aim is to inspire our next generation of innovators and problem solvers … and robotics scientists!

How to build a robot in Central Australia

It’s a hot day in Hermannsburg, 127 k west of Alice Springs. Here, in the desert country, red cliffs rise to create gorges, and stands of ghost gums line the valleys. This area is home of the Aranda (Arrernte) people, and is famous as the birthplace of celebrated artist Albert Namatjira.

It’s also the site of some cutting edge robotics demonstrations.

“Through the program, the Indigenous students work with Lego Robots as a way of helping understand coding, numeracy and measurement concepts,” Grahame explains. “It’s very busy and rewarding working with the students and teachers. It is great to see the enthusiasm of the students, learning through fun activities. And the feedback is immediate.”

Bringing STEM experiences to regional and remote Australia, is a key objective of the STEM Professionals in Schools program.

Remote partnerships can be challenging because of the travel involved and the large distances between schools. But it also allows the scientists to teach in areas they have never visited, to meet students from different backgrounds, and to work with their dedicated teachers.

“I’ve been partnered with several schools in Central Australia, which has involved working with teams of scientists during Science Week, as well as individually,” Grahame explains. We wonder what kind of desert-dwelling ‘bots these students from Ntaria are going to build next …

The true tale of the Talented Maths Group

Maths teacher Justine Allen wanted STEM to be a core part of her students’ … equation.

Justine is a teacher from Cape Naturaliste College, in the heart of Margaret River wine country in Western Australia.

“I was starting a Talented Maths Group, and I was looking for ideas to inspire more students to study maths in Years 11 and 12,” Justine says.

“At a conference I heard about the opportunity to become involved in the STEM Professionals in Schools program.”

So Justine formed a partnership with Sylvia Young, a mathematician and research fellow from the University of Western Australia. Since their partnership began in 2017, Justine and her students have undertaken a visit to Perth each year, including a tour of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and a ‘meet-and-greet’ at the UWA campus with Sylvia.

Back in the classroom, Sylvia has provided a data set from her diabetic genome research for the students to use in their study of statistics.

“It’s great to be able to bring real-life data into lessons rather than relying on text book examples,” Justine says.

For Justine, she sees many benefits of the partnership. “Engaging with someone outside of teaching is so important for generating new ideas to engage the students in maths and the study of STEM disciplines.”

Maths teacher Justine Allen and mathematician Sylvia Young have partnered up to share there love … of maths!

Thank you, to all our volunteers

This National Volunteer Week, we’re saying an enormous thank you to all our dedicated volunteers: from Tempy to Hermannsburg, you are inspiring Australia’s next generation of problem solvers and innovators.