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It all began with a small $50,000 research grant promoting a big idea, and a chance meeting with an industry partner. The Queensland Department of Education and Training (DET) funded a project (Nichols, Gillies) to develop a professional learning model for teachers around collaborative multimodal inquiry in science, with the aim of piloting a model of professional learning for primary school teachers that was sustainable, aligned with the goals of the Australian Curriculum, and could be scaled up across a larger program. The project succeeded in significantly improving teachers’ and students’ conceptual and representational competencies in science as well as in building confidence to teach and learn science. As learning with representations is critically important to the development of scientific literacy, this professional learning model has the capacity to contribute to the declining student performance measures as well as foster engagement and interest in science.

At a research forum hosted by DET where the outcomes of the study were presented, two industry representatives from the Queensland Museum Network (QMN) offered up a collaboration. The outcome of the chance meeting is a $300,000 research contract with QMN and QGC, and a four-year $1.3 million ARC Linkage Project application to raise awareness and interest in STEM through connecting in- and out-of-school STEM programs, industry professional engagement and professional learning of primary and middle school teachers. It would appear that no grant is too small as there is always the potential for larger projects to grow from humble beginnings.

Given the significant disparity in scientific literacy performance in national and state testing between regional/remote and municipal schools, this study could conceivably contribute to stemming the gap. Moreover, models of effective collaboration between industry professionals and schools do not exist. This study will lead the way in providing a practical approach to such critical collaborations. Out-of-school STEM programs have the potential to further captivate students about the wonder of STEM fields, particularly in regional/remote schools that have little access to such programs.  Taken together, the impact of this study could be large given the declining interest and engagement in STEM and STEM careers. As countries with successful STEM education programs and a commitment to STEM careers have strong economies, this study could contribute to Australia’s future for innovation and economic growth.

Project members

Dr Kim Nichols

Senior Lecturer