How to teach STEM in the real world

STEM in the real world

Many hours and education dollars are spent on programs and initiatives to develop a sustainable and successful STEM program in schools. However, these are not always effective in changing teacher behaviour or generating a cultural change.

Jennifer McPhie asks, how can we improve on our delivery of STEM in schools? What skills do students need to succeed in future careers, and how can we as teachers deliver these skills?


STEM education is the term that refers to

– The teaching of those areas within their disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and mathematics) , with the development of deep content knowledge,

– A transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach to teaching that motivates interest in and provides opportunities for student learning that improve their problem solving and critical analysis skills to develop (Education Council, 2015), known as ‘enterprise skills (Finkel, 2018)

– ICT capabilities


Effective education of STEM in schools

Great learning occurs when it is participatory, personalised and project/problem-based rather than using rote learning or passive input.

The past model of education prepared our students for an Industrial economy.

The future model must prepare our students for a Knowledge economy, i.e. an economy in which growth is dependent on the quantity, quality, and accessibility of the information available, rather than the means of production.

The STEM approach to teaching and learning is a way of teaching. This way of teaching uses 21st-Century skills of inquiry, project/problem and research-based skills to provide a safe and guided platform for the growth mindset.



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21st Century learners

Primary school aged children are both as capable of demonstrating independent thought and practice, and verbalising their findings and conclusions as their Secondary schooled counterparts.

Greater opportunities exist for younger students to develop their literacy and communication skills as they tend to be less inhibited, however the classroom environment for the primary student is more controlled.

Secondary students are provided with an enhanced level of control over their learning, and teachers in the secondary area tend to give their students a voice and more autonomy over the decision-making process about their learning.

However, in both environments, explicit teaching still needs to occur and strategies for meta-cognition and learning, with the development of higher order skills acquirement, is required.  


21st Century educators

21st Century STEM pedagogies use innovative and research supported teaching strategies, learning technologies and real-world problem-based scenarios.

STEM pedagogies focus on the ‘why’ of learning rather than the ‘what and the ‘how’. These pedagogies are deeply personal and can be highly engaging when content enhances curiosity and models the inquiry process.

For STEM pedagogies to work well, teachers must work with the curriculum to design and plan units of work that meet the needs and interests of students.


21st Century classrooms

Our students must have the opportunities to participate using their own learning journey, to make sense of the world, and realise their key role in it.

This will create equitable learning opportunities and provide a platform for career aspirations.

21st Century classrooms also must recognise the cultural and socio-economic gaps present and plan for strategies that will address those gaps and build the bridges needed. It is important to raise the participation levels in STEM subjects for girls and Indigenous students.

Engaging schools with programs, competitions, STEM camps, partnering with government courses and academies, will engage students in relevant STEM learning as an extension of the classroom.

This paper forms a small part of a larger position paper by the author.

artificial intelligence
Jennifer McPhie

Author: Jennifer McPhie

Jennifer has been a Head of Department, course writer and curriculum developer (Science). She loves to bring the classroom to life and to teach a 21st Century model, promoting differentiation and personalised learning.


  1. I certainly agree with how the notion that primary school aged children are as capable of independent thought and practice as secondary school students. I have seen this numerous times in the Model Solar Vehicle Challenge. That’s where I have also seen the benefits of participation. I can really only agree with what you have said


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