Guided by two women in STEM, technology students at a Perth school have used coding to create a device to help the hearing impaired.

Information technology (IT) expert and our STEM Professionals in Schools volunteer Sheree Pudney has been sharing her industry experience with high-school students. These students love their STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) classes at St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls. The classes are led by teacher Karen Donnelly with Sheree lending her knowledge to the coding lessons.

Sheree has incorporated her vast corporate IT experience into the curriculum when it comes to teaching students all about coding. As a result, year six students have now learnt Arduino computer coding with her help. Together with Sheree and Karen, students have used this to create and control electronic devices.

Karen and STEM Professionals in Schools volunteers Sheree sitting at a laptop on a science lab bench.
St Hilda’s teacher, Karen Donnelly, with our STEM Professionals in Schools volunteer Sheree Pudney.

Taking lessons to the next level

Year six students, Miette and Elizabeth used their lessons to solve a challenge faced by some music teachers. That is, how does one communicate to hearing impaired students how hard to strike the drums?

Mentored by Sheree and Karen, they used coding to create a computer-controlled aid for teachers. The device lights up with LED bulbs to visually show whether students are striking the drums accurately, too hard or too soft. The team called the device ‘Hearing Impaired LED’ or ‘HI LED’ for short. They won the 2021 state Young ICT Explorers award for their age group. In addition, they came second in the national competition.

Our Director for Education and Outreach, Ruth Carr, is a big advocate for programs like STEM Professionals in Schools.

“Applying creativity and technology to benefit society like this shows why initiatives to boost STEM education are important,” Ruth said.

“Women are underrepresented in STEM industries. Changing this starts with having more visible, female STEM role models. And highlighting the learning and career pathways that are open to students.”

The value of real-world experts in school

Sheree is one of over 1200 STEM professionals nationwide that currently volunteer for the STEM Professionals in Schools program. The Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment supports the program. In partnership with St Hilda’s, Sheree and Karen have introduced about 350 girls to coding.

“It’s an opportunity to teach students. To show them they can do something that they didn’t think they could. To have girls enjoy and achieve in STEM activities,” Sheree said when asked why she volunteered with the program.

“I just love hearing the girls yell out ‘it works!’ and see the look of amazement on their faces,” she said.

While the benefits to students are immediately apparent, the program also offers developmental opportunities for teachers, like Karen.

“The program and the partnership we have with Sheree has enabled me to thrive and extend myself as a teacher. I have been able to bounce ideas off Sheree and benefit from her expertise. With Sheree’s support, I have been able to go the extra mile to extend our students,” Karen said.

“My partnership has added a huge amount of value to my work at St Hilda’s. Over the past five years, we have taken part in a range of competitions. We have attended and presented at conferences and workshops together. It has been an amazing learning journey,” she said.

St Hilda’s Director of Discovery, Danelle Cross said, “Authentic learning encourages students to learn through hands-on, collaborative and action-based learning projects that address real problems relevant to students’ lives. Authentic learning opportunities are vital in schools, as real projects with purpose and meaning beyond the classroom equal more engaged students and ultimately, a future ready workforce.”

Do you want to get involved?

STEM Professionals in Schools is Australia’s largest volunteer program for STEM professionals and educators. Once partnered, participants have the flexibility to decide how often to meet and how to incorporate the STEM professional’s expertise into lessons.

Are you interested in volunteering? If so, applications are open for volunteers (with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a STEM related field) and registered teachers to join the program.

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