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Girls in STEM at Caulfield Grammar School

“Statistics continue to tell us that over half of Australian girls have never considered aiming for a STEM-related career. It is important for girls to take up STEM subjects so that STEM industries become more diverse. And with diversity comes innovation.” Sonia Cotugno, Teacher of Applied Computing, Creative & Digital Media, Digital Technologies at Caulfield Grammar School’s Wheelers Hill Campus.

For the past couple of years there has been a particular focus on inspiring girls to pursue studies and careers related to STEM. “We are continuously incorporating digital learning opportunities and ‘hands-on’ activities into the curriculum to give our girls the 21st-century skills — the knowledge, skills, values and experiences – they need to thrive in a rapidly changing world,” Sonia explains.

Implementation of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) has helped us develop STEM in the Middle Years curriculum. All students in Years 7 and 8  study Product and Digital Design, and Years 9 and 10 students can now choose from brand-new electives such as Design & Engineering, Virtual Reality Futures, Computer Science, Creative Technologies and Design Technology.

STEM at Caulfield

Sonya Cotugno  says of the MYP programme, “It’s a very exciting time at Caulfield Grammar School as we continue to expand our Design and Technology curriculum and provide students with the opportunity to experience different topics such as robotics, sustainable fashion, computer science, software development and creative technologies.”

Year 9 student Sophie loves art and design, but until this year hadn’t been very interested or involved in coding. The MYP Programme has given her the opportunity to explore this space and discover new skills and interests.

“When I found out coding and computers was a subject that our School offered, I decided to try it out before I started choosing my subjects for VCE. I was curious about how devices, games and animations are programmed and I wanted to learn how I could program one myself.”

Sophie found herself quickly embracing the new technology, which combined her artistic design skills with her newly learned coding and technical skills. Her image of Flinders Street Station for a STEM class project was designed using Python language and comprising hundreds of lines of code.

STEM at Caulfield

“I am really drawn to this field because there’s a lot of freedom in the type of work you produce and you can easily express your style through it. I had no prior knowledge of Python or other coding languages before I designed my Flinders Street Station promotional poster. It was a lot of fun as I got to use my design and art skills as well as my new coding skills. I discovered that coding is a great way to practise planning and designing efficiently, and it definitely improves critical thinking skills.”

Year 9 student Iris also discovered a passion for STEM when challenged with a task in her Product Design and Technology elective. Product Design sits in the field of industrial design and engineering, and is more about the physical construction of real-world products instead of digital solutions.

“We had to take a traditional board game and re-imagine it for a modern market increasingly obsessed with online video games. My project was a braille Chess re-design, which addressed the needs of the sight impaired. I had to look at adapting the traditional design in an innovative way and also design a container that would appeal to this target market.”

Iris used computer-aided design software to model her design and then 3D printed the final prototype.

As well as the implementation of the IB MYP, which is proving successful in engaging girls in STEM, Wheelers Hill Secondary Campus is focusing on providing more opportunities and facilities to give girls the confidence to explore and experiment.

STEM at Caulfield

“Currently the digital fabrication laboratory has five 3D printers along with capacity for electronics, robotics and traditional fabrication. In 2022 students will have access to a laser cutter and a CNC router, which will enable students to realise their engineering design ideas quickly and therefore iterate,” says Matthew Plummer, Learning Area Leader for Design & Technology. “In 2022 we will invest in virtual reality headsets where students will not only participate in fully immersive learning experiences but create their own content in, and for, Virtual Reality.”

Wheelers Hill Campus has also introduced a girls’ coding club and there will be a competitive Robots Club in 2022 that will compete in the VEX global robotics competitions.

“We hope to have so many more opportunities for girls in STEM next year,” says Matthew, “and it would be great if there was an all-girls team in the global comps!”

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