New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

The First Year of STEM at an Australian Primary School: Promise and Uncertainty

Markus Powling, St Mary’s Primary School (Australia)


The Australian Government through the Office of the Chief Scientist has called on a transformation of STEM teaching in primary schools (Prinsley and Johnston, 2015). At the start of 2016, St Mary’s Primary School in Sydney launched a STEM program to recognise the importance of igniting students’ passion for STEM at an early age. Children in Grades 1-6 spend 60-90 minutes per week with the program which is designed to: promote scientific enquiry and technological thinking; encourage collaboration; provide engaging hands-on experiences; foster effective communication; nourish curiosity and a sense of wonder. Approaching the end of the year, the strengths of the program are: exceptionally high engagement of students; regular hands-on, collaborative activities; clear communication with school staff and parents; support from the Catholic Schools Office for the program as an example of innovation and “authentic learning”. While the program has had a successful first year, several issues have become increasingly salient. First, there is a risk that the creativity and excitement of the program may be diminished by exposure to the dominant standards-driven paradigm. Second, in a crowded curriculum and school timetable, there are questions about how the components of STEM should be weighted and integrated with each other and with other syllabus areas. Third, planned efforts to raise the STEM capacity of non-specialist teachers at the school may be hindered by competing demands and interests. To provide a culture in which STEM might continue to thrive, staff at the school is being invited to consider the two-sided model of teacher professionalism developed by Crowther (2016). He believes that the “standards” approach to education needs to be balanced by one which recognises the initiative and ingenuity of individual teachers. 


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[2] OECD. “Compare your country - PISA 2015”. Retrieved December 22, 2016, from
[3] Prinsley, R. and Johnston, E. “Transforming STEM teaching in Australian primary schools: everybody’s business”. Australian Government: Office of the Chief Scientist December,     2015.
[4] Hunter, J. “High Possibility Classrooms”.  STEM Education Conference, Melbourne, 27-28 July, 2016.
[5] Spencer, A. “The one thing I’d do to revolutionise science in Australia”. The Sydney Morning Herald. November 30, 2016.
[6] BOSTES NSW. Science K-10 Syllabus. Retrieved 22 December 22, 2016, from
[7] McAllister, B. “The heart of STEM education”. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved December 22,2016,
[8] Vasquez, J. “STEM – Beyond the acronym”. Educational Leadership, 72(4), ASCD, December 2014/January 2015, pp.10-15.
[9] Crowther, F. “Energising Teaching: The Power of Your Unique Pedagogical Gift”. ACER Press, 2016.

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