STEM MAD Showcase

Where there is genius, there’s a little madness too.

 

‘Catholic educators see learning as a journey of endless possibilities, where students are energised to seek meaning and explore questions about the world around them’ (Catholic Education Melbourne, Horizons of Hope: Vision and Context).

 

As adults, the real problems facing our world today can easily leave us overwhelmed with thoughts of: ‘we just don’t know what to do’, ‘we can’t see a way around this’ or ‘it’s going to take a miracle’.

 

Sometimes (if not always), we need to see with fresh eyes and, according to the famous Apple commercial narrated by crazy genius Steve Jobs, with a glint of madness in them. So he, and the many like him (Hypatia, da Vinci, Einstein) would love this story.

 

For the rest of us mere mortals, reading this will blow those cobwebs of despair away. It’s a true story of the insurmountable overcome. It’s about the inaugural STEM MAD Showcase held on 25 October 2018 at the Catholic Leadership Centre, East Melbourne.

 

Who would have thought primary school students could come up with remarkably innovative solutions that would actually work? And with nothing more than a few rudimentary resources but, as it turns out, a whole lot of lateral thinking.

 

Imagine if they had more sophisticated, technical resources. Well, it was imagined and realised, and made to work by our secondary school students.

 

Before we look at two examples from the STEM MAD Showcase 2018, let’s answer the most obvious questions.

 

What is ‘STEM’?

 

STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. But we at Learning & Teaching like to give each area the significance it deserves:

  • Science is about big ideas and visions of all phenomena great and small.
  • Technology is about the enabling of learning and human potential.
  • Engineering is about the designing and creating of solutions.
  • Mathematics is about the patterns and data of meaning.

 

STEM education is a fairly recent multidisciplinary approach to teaching. So far, it has proven to increase student interest and knowledge and, as a result, improve their problem-solving, creative thinking and critical analysis skills.

 

What is ‘MAD’?

 

MAD is the acronym for ‘Making a Difference’. Students design a service, innovation or product that makes a difference to others or to our environment.

 

And what a difference they made by pushing the boundaries of possibility and perspective and, in the process, showing us the world with fresh eyes. Our young people proved to be the change-makers the world needs for the challenges to be overcome.

 

There are too many visionary services, innovations and products to mention, but here are two that exemplify the length and breadth of research students undertook in order to be MAD.

 

Floating cities of the future

 

The primary students at St Anthony’s School, Alphington, tackled the problem of climate change and, more specifically, rising sea levels. Their research found that rising seas are not only encroaching onto our shorelines but also into our wetlands, and this will get worse because they protect against flooding. Tree loss will be accelerated and we need trees because they help by reducing carbon dioxide.

 

The solution? If you can’t beat them, join them. So they designed a city architecture that allows buildings to float on the water, and even adapt to the rise and fall of sea levels.

 

App for people living with autism

 

The secondary students at St Monica’s College, Epping, investigated the inner world of a person with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The more they learned about autism being a neurological disorder that affects normal functioning of the brain, thus impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication, the closer they got to the ‘aha’ moment. Once they realised that one in every 150 children is diagnosed with this condition in Australia, they asked the question all geniuses ask: ‘What if …?’ And so their app was developed to support teenagers living with autism, as well as their families and school community.

 

Perhaps a few words from supporting delegates of our inaugural STEM MAD Showcase will help sum up the overall impression the students made on us all:

 

‘Our minds were blown’ (Elizabeth Gage, Arts Educator, NGV).

 

‘What a wonderful opportunity this event provides’ (Kathy Smith, Senior Lecturer, Science, Monash University).

 

‘It was a pleasure and an honour to be part of’ (Georgene Bridgeman, CEO, Akorn Educational Services).

 

This curriculum to real-world problem-solving has already begun to make a difference, with some councils showing interest.

 

As Catholic educators, we see learning as a journey of ‘endless possibilities’. But if there was any adult-tinged scepticism about those last two words, our students made us see anew. They proved that from a lot of visionary thinking and collaboration, coupled with a little madness, comes genius.