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Enrolments in free-fall as bored students switch off STEM subjects

Natasha Bita, May 10, 2022 7:00PM Kids News

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St John XXIII Catholic College head of School of Curiosity Daniel Langford, with year 6 students, from left, Denika Fernandopulle, Mia Lucas and Rafael Nicodemus. The school is taking part in a careers counselling program aimed at getting kids interested in careers in maths and science. Picture: John Feder media_cameraSt John XXIII Catholic College head of School of Curiosity Daniel Langford, with year 6 students, from left, Denika Fernandopulle, Mia Lucas and Rafael Nicodemus. The school is taking part in a careers counselling program aimed at getting kids interested in careers in maths and science. Picture: John Feder

mathematics

Reading level: orange

Gaming or sport should be used to teach maths to “capture the curiosity’’ of bored school students, an architect of the new national curriculum has said.

A mathematician and software expert, Grok Academy chief executive Dr James Curran helped rewrite the new curriculum for digital technologies and said changes to the way maths is taught could stop teenagers exiting science and maths subjects in high school. He said online gaming or sport could make maths more relevant to children.

media_cameraGrok Academy CEO Dr James Curran believes online gaming and sport could be used to make maths and science more engaging for children. Picture: Philip Fong/AFP

“Kids are fundamentally curious but we don’t set up school in a way that harnesses their curiosity so they can learn the things they want to, and the things they have to, all at once,’’ Dr Curran said. “Putting (maths and IT) in the context of gaming or sport makes a very big difference.

Last month the Grok Academy signed up more than 16,000 school students to stop a simulated* cyber-attack* on an Australian warship, in a gaming-style Cyber Live event.

“If you want to feel like a ­superhero, cyber security is a great area to do it in,’’ Dr Curran said.

As high school students drop out of advanced maths subjects at record rates, Dr Curran warned that information technology and computing were even less popular with teenagers, adding to Australia’s hi-tech skills shortage.

He said that only 1748 year 12 students ­enrolled in software design and development in NSW last year – roughly half the 3300 who studied the subject a decade ago. Enrolments have crashed in information processing and technology, from 10,000 in 2001 to just 1939 students in 2021.

In Victoria, barely 400 students studied information, digital media and technology in year 12 last year, while only 1721 senior students studied digital solutions in Queensland.

Dr Curran blamed a dated syllabus for an ­exodus* of students.

Tech Education Revolution media_cameraGrok Academy CEO Dr James Curran is pictured back left with Sydney tech billionaire Richard White and staff and students of Auburn Girls’ High School, after Mr White announced in February he would invest $50 million a year into new interactive tech teaching materials and tools for teachers. Picture: Justin Lloyd

“Cyber security is one of the new resources that brings the ­national curriculum up to a good standard,’’ he said. “Students are not taking computing subjects at the senior level and that’s partly because the subject is a bit out of date. Computing is a subject that changes rapidly and needs to be tweaked every few years, not left a decade or more, so I would like to see a continual process of smaller changes and updates.’’

Dr Curran called on state education departments, as well as private and public schooling systems, to pool their expertise in teaching maths.

“It’s about changing the system so education departments invest more in centralised resources, ­curated* so it’s easier for teachers to pull out (lessons) that are interesting to individual students,’’ he said.

Young Boy Accountant Records Taxes to be Paid media_cameraIn the rapidly expanding tech era, maths and science offer a much wider choice of careers now than was previously the case, but many students remain unaware of all the exciting options, leading to a mass exit from STEM subjects in high school. Picture: file image

As schools struggle to convince students to stick with the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths, 1000 primary schools across Australia have signed up to a new careers counselling program to get young kids interested in hi-tech careers.

The program uses online lessons to show children as young as six how emergency services direct triple-0 calls, the process of designing the Olympics logo, and how Netflix mines data to decide which movies to make.

The program’s co-founder, Samantha Devlin, said she wanted to make children’s career choices “less random’’.

“They rule out technology because they don’t know the jobs that exist,’’ she said.

Careers Guidance for Kids media_cameraThe Careers Department CEO Samantha Devlin at St John XXIII Catholic College with year 6 students Denika Fernandopulle, Mia Lucas and Rafael Nicodemus. The program uses online lessons to explore the huge range of career pathways in STEM subjects. Picture: John Feder

The careers program is being introduced to St John XXIII Catholic College in Stanhope Gardens in Sydney, where principal Peter Webster hopes it will spark interest in STEM subjects.

“Our students will have not just one career but many, so we need to develop a range of skills in communication, collaboration*, connectivity and critical thinking,’’ Mr Webster said. “Often they don’t know what range of opportunities there are in technology.’’

Eleven-year-old student Mia Lucas said she “had fun’’ completing a model on UX design – the “user experience’’ process that design teams use to create products.

“I’ve always been interested in creating a website or an app but didn’t know the first step in doing that,’’ she said.

“I like collecting data, doing measurements, times tables, equations and everything, and my mum and dad are really good at maths and help me a lot.’’

GLOSSARY

  • simulated: imitating the conditions or process of something real, often in training
  • cyber-attack: when cyber criminals or hackers disable computers, steal data, or breach security
  • exodus: when a lot of people or things leave a place at once
  • curated: when something is carefully chosen and purposefully organised
  • collaboration: co-operation, alliance, partnership, working with others for common goal

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many students took part in the Grok Academy Cyber Live event last month?
  2. What did the students do as participants in the event?
  3. How many year 12 students ­enrolled in software design and development in NSW last year?
  4. How many Victorian students studied information, digital media and technology in year 12 last year?
  5. What is a new resources that brings the ­national curriculum up to a good standard, according to Dr Curran?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Future jobs
Educators are trying to teach kids and design a curriculum for jobs that may not even exist yet! As technology keeps getting more advanced, more job opportunities will arise.

Work with a partner and brainstorm five or more jobs that may not exist yet, but might be in high demand in 2032 and beyond.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Digital Technologies; Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Think about the programmers who know what type of shows you like on Netflix, or who target the ads on social media or your web browsers to something you’ve looked up in the past. What sort of skills would they need to do these types of jobs?

How would you make the school curriculum for digital technologies, science or maths more interesting for kids to study?

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Digital Technologies; Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Read this!
A headline on an article – or a title on your text – should capture the attention of the audience, telling them to read this now. So choosing the perfect words for a headline or title is very important.

Create three new headlines for the events that took place in this article. Remember, what you write and how you write it will set the pace for the whole text, so make sure it matches.

Read out your headlines to a partner and discuss what the article will be about based on the headline you created. Discuss the tone and mood you set in just your few, short words. Does it do the article justice? Will it capture the audience’s attention the way you hoped? Would you want to read more?

Consider how a headline or title is similar to using short, sharp sentences throughout your text. They can be just as important as complex ones. Go through the last text you wrote and highlight any short, sharp sentences that capture the audience.

Extra Reading in mathematics