E is for Engineering

young people talking to demonstrators at an expo

Engineers Australia participated in the week long Sydney Science Trail at the Australian Museum – a key event in Sydney during National Science Week 2022.

Engineering students from University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and University of Wollongong, from Civil, Electrical, Mechatronics, Software and Environmental Engineering disciplines, helped facilitate conversations with parents and teachers, and run activities to engage students’ imagination.

Sydney Science Trail is exactly that – students exploring scientific research and technology, arriving finally at the Engineers Australia stand to learn how engineers combine this exciting research, maths, and technology to improve processes and products, and to create whole new “things”!

“It was a great week, watching as students experienced light globe moments; but at times it was confronting”, says Engineers Australia Partnerships Manager Caryn Morgan.  

Challenging attitudes to STEM

A Year 9 student, when asked what they were looking forward to over the coming years, responded with “dropping maths and science after Year 10!”.  This feedback was not isolated.   

“Many students are intimidated by subjects like maths and science, which they perceive as more complex,” says Morgan. “But what we’ve seen this week is that given the right push, students can be inspired by what engineers can do.”

Primary school students are also intrigued by science and technology. “Their excitement is invigorating,” says Morgan. “The message I heard a lot this week was that teachers need as much support as we can give them to nurture this excitement in their students. Many teachers do not come from STEM backgrounds, so anything we can do to support them is welcome.”

E is for Engineering

“‘E is for Engineering,’ the brainchild of Victorian teacher Shane Giese, has the potential to assist primary teachers and their students to embrace STEM,” says Morgan. 

Effectively, an engineer adopts a class, works with the teacher, and introduces students to the practical application of maths and science. The Engineers receive training, and go on to visit each fortnight or month for an hour or so – to maintain the level of excitement these children have, at the same time increasing teachers’ confidence in delivering STEM content. “Ultimately it will come down to capacity and funding,” says Morgan.

A landmark light-based art exhibition as part of Science Week 2022

Just prior to the 2021 NSW lockdown, a class of female Year 8 students from Springwood and Winmalee High Schools participated in Engineers Australia’s Experience It! – a day of workshops delivered by student outreach teams from our key universities.  

Their teacher Troy Garrett had approached Engineers Australia, concerned his students had disengaged from maths and science.

Springwood is in the lower Blue Mountains, on the outer limits of the new Bradfield Innovation Precinct under construction around the Western Sydney Airport. Bradfield will be home to Advanced Manufacturing, “multi-universities” and hi-tech industries.  

“These students have three choices – be a part of this future, lead it, or be spectators on the side lines. Troy was concerned that on the current trajectory, they would fall into the latter,” says Morgan.

During Experience It! May 2021, the girls were challenged with activities including designing a light show using arduino, and fluid mechanics. These were not easy tasks but the sense of achievement has inspired these students to continue to learn more and test themselves further.

A year on, as part of National Science Week, these girls designed and built light installations and produced a light-based art exhibition for parents, the community and local government members to enjoy. Their next challenge – the students hope to be the first school to participate in VIVID, setting their sights on the 2023 event.

Now near the end of Year 9, the original girls are mentoring Year 8 students to engage and challenge themselves to achieve. Springwood students will be participating in Experience It! in October, and Discover Engineering in November, to learn about engineering, and gather skills required to take on the challenge set by Year 9.

The light-based art exhibition created for National Science Week 2022.

Images: Students from Springwood and Winmalee High School and one of the light installations.

This article originally appeared in Create Digital and is reproduced with permission from Engineers Australia.