Praxical: learn by doing

Praxical is a new learning initiative to create online workshops where participants can actively engage in the scientific process. Lead by UNSW PhD student, Luke Steller, the team at Praxical is building free, entirely online, self-led STEM workshops for National Science Week.

In Praxical workshops, rather than just passively consuming information, participants will get the opportunity to engage in the scientific skills used by NSW’s leading research organisations to understand the world around us.

Praxical is a collection of scientists and STEM educators who believe the best way to learn science is to do science. The team includes UNSW scientists and educators Bonnie Teece, David Edwards and Shane Hengst, as well as high school teacher Madeline Muscat. The name Praxical comes from the Latin word praxis: to learn through experience.

Praxical is collaborating with key research organisations to create workshops where participants analyse real data, working on the same problems scientists deal with in their research. Participants will learn for themselves the scientific techniques and processes being used to understand some of society’s biggest issues, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and space exploration.

Among partner organisations are ANSTO, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (ACA) and UNSW’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES).  

The case for active learning

These Problem Based Learning (PBL) style workshops are an effective way to engage in STEM. However, there is a real shortage of PBL workshops that individuals can participate in, as the majority of resources require additional input by a teacher or facilitator.

“When I took time off from university, it was tough to find STEM resources where I got the opportunity to work with real data to come up with my own findings,” Steller said.

“There is lots of passive content out there (like articles and documentaries), but very few practical activities that individuals can do in their own, especially if you don’t have a teacher to adapt existing lesson plans and facilitate a workshop for you”. 

Praxical will fill this gap by creating entirely self-led PBL style workshops that will lead the participant with step-by-step video and text instructions and an auto-feedback answer sheet. The workshops will also include interviews with researchers, footage of fieldwork and extensive links to resources and articles.

During National Science Week, the workshops will be accompanied by “Zoom a scientist” sessions with the Australian researchers behind the data. These sessions will allow participants to talk directly with scientists, intended to create a dialogue surrounding the nature of science, including how and why science is performed the way it is.

“I learnt first-hand how important it is to actually do research and talk to scientists to finally understand what science is. Before I was involved in research, I thought that science was just a collection of facts.” said Stellar. “It was only after talking to scientists and doing research myself that I realised that science is an on-going process, with our understanding constantly changing as new information is interpreted. These workshops will allow the wider public to get a taste of this scientific process themselves, and to learn what science is really about”.

Register to attend a workshop

Praxical has received a National Science Week grant from Inspiring Australia NSW. For more information about this problem-based learning initiative email or follow Praxical on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Image courtsey of UNSW shows members of the Praxical team: Bonnie Teece, Winston (Bonnie’s dog) and Luke Steller (pictured). David Edwards, Shane Hengst and Madeline Muscat (not pictured).