Nurturing innovation in our girls

Encouraging STEM learning at all girls schools

The world is a progressively complex, interconnected and technological place and it is important that young women recognise the essential role Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), as well as the arts and literature, play in shaping this world of innovation. Now more than ever it is necessary to nurture girls who can become creative and confident women willing and able to take risks.

This month the state-of-the-art Margaret McRae Centre at Ruyton Girls’ School in Kew was completed, featuring new science laboratories, drama studios and Year 7 and 8 classrooms. The official opening is scheduled for the beginning of 2016.

‘The focus of the new Margaret McRae Centre is to nurture curiosity, creativity, collaboration, problem finding and problem solving,’ says Ruyton’s Principal, Ms Linda Douglas.

An important component of the project has been the incorporation of Year 7 and Year 8 classrooms with new flexible learning areas which will encourage different and new ways of thinking and learning about science, literature and mathematics. The Centre has been designed specifically to meet the needs of these girls, inspiring them to engage with scientific discovery as they pose problems and solve them in creative and innovative ways.

A significant motivator for girls is their desire to make the world a better place. For Ruyton girls, when they can see their learning and experimentation in the science laboratory contributing to real world solutions in the field of medicine, or protecting endangered species, for example, this excites and motivates them. Having worked with Professor Carol Dweck over the last year, Ruyton School are focusing on the promotion of a growth mindset. When girls become ‘gritty’ with their learning, taking risks and learning from their mistakes, becoming persistent in their curiosity, they develop resilience. As research psychologist Angela Duckworth notes, resilience plus grit equals success.

A 2014 report published by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute states:

‘Teachers, parents and other elements of the cultural environment play a critical role in the interest and achievement of girls in science and mathematics, and young women in their pursuit of careers in mathematics and other STEM fields. These are important elements, as it is often the confidence and attitudinal factors that play the largest role in deterring girls from mathematics in early life. Direct supports enable the impact of negative stereotypes to be reduced, provide the opportunity for greater awareness of what STEM study and work entails, and improve the self-efficacy of young women in their study of mathematics and the sciences. Direct support can include mentoring programmes, the identification of role models and programmes supporting student access, as well as career and course counselling services (Roberts 2014).’

Ruyton’s new Margaret McRae Centre will continue to encourage their students to have the confidence to be creative in their approach to learning. The school has established listening groups to gather feedback from students as the new Centre was being designed. Their students talked about how they value engagement, collaboration and innovation in learning, about the importance of a teacher’s passion for a subject, of seeing relevance and connection in their learning, as well as the need for everyone to experience different approaches to learning and to be recognised for their individual endeavours and achievements.

None of Ruyton’s students saw learning as confined to the classroom. They saw learning happening everywhere, in all areas of the school, both inside and outside, at home and even waiting for the tram. This is what the new Centre offers: a flow of formal and informal learning areas that encourage connection, creativity and personalised learning.

The introduction of STEM experiences at Ruyton such as the Maker Fair, Coding, Junior Engineers in the Junior School, and a Multimedia unit for Year 7 and 8 students, have provided their students with increased opportunities to explore, invent and create, ensuring a strong foundation for future engagement and learning in STEM. The range of STEM experiences offered in the Senior School curriculum is enriched by opportunities such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Camp, participation in the L’Oréal Girls in Science Forums and the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Annual Science Breakfast. These opportunities allow Ruyton students to take advantage of world-class resources, build networks, access STEM workplaces, such as the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Australian Synchrotron, and also to connect with role models and mentors. Ruyton Girl’s School is developing opportunities for partnerships with local organisations, such as Swinburne University of Technology, which will allow access to outstanding research, experts and facilities to provide a real world context for girls to engage with STEM at the highest level.

The previous Margaret McRae building was named in honour of Ruyton’s former Headmistress Miss Margaret McRae. Miss McRae led the Ruyton community with distinction from 1962 to 1985, having joined the staff in 1957 as a Social Studies and History Teacher. She was respected for her forward-thinking leadership and her focus on innovation in education, encouraging staff to adopt new practices in the classroom and to encourage girls to aim high. It is this progressive spirit and focus on the development of Ruyton girls as young autonomous women that the Margaret McRae Centre will continue to celebrate.

Just as in the past, the Centre continues to open onto Hiscock Court where many community events take place. To reinforce the importance of this central hub, the surrounding landscape was carefully designed to enhance accessibility to nearby buildings and the existing café. With a new outdoor performance space in addition to the drama spaces and community event facilities on the lower level, Hiscock Court truly remains the heart of the school.


Words: Alana Lopez


As an independent, forward thinking girls’ school, Ruyton is committed to preparing girls for a lifetime of learning, leadership and […]

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