Creating a future-focused STEM classroom; STEM activities and coding challenges

James Davies, year 5 teacher at Croydon Public, believes it’s never too early to prepare students for the future.

It’s predicted that 75% of future jobs will require STEM skills – but that doesn’t mean he’s teaching an entire cohort of future scientists or mathematicians. Industries like business and finance, or even media and marketing increasingly require skills like coding or programming.

Teaching code

Until recently, James had zero coding experience. He taught himself to code using tools from the Australian Computing Academy (ACA). The ACA produces free coding challenges and STEM activities for years 5-8, with extensive teacher resources, detailed lesson plans and above-and-beyond support through email or hotline. These tools are step-by-step guides to programming for all skill levels that can be readily integrated into the classroom for students and teachers to easily learn with.

“The Blockly coding activities from the ACA have structured modules that teach us how to drag a block that pumps out a code, but it also shows us what the block is actually doing. It doesn’t just show you how, it also shows you why.”

“It’s so teacher-friendly and student-friendly.” says James.

Coding, but not like you know it

Australian students have been ranked least confident in technology skills and least interested in tech, across nine sample countries in a report from the World Economic Forum in 2016. How can a future-focused classroom combat this trend to inspire a love of technology?

Codings challenges with a fun-to-use and easy-to-understand interface reframes coding as a colourful and creative task, far removed from boring black-and-white binary. Each of ACA’s activity modules practices specific Digital Technologies (DT) skills such as abstraction or data collection. These skills then contribute to an exciting, interactive final product; whether that’s an animated turtle, or a fully-fledged chatbot for example.

“The teachers look at coding, and without putting thought into it they consider it too hard and think it’s not relevant for future careers.” says James.

“Teachers need to look at STEM activities and coding challenges as one small part of computational thinking – being able to problem solve at a higher level.”

Unpacking the curriculum

The ACA also run specialised workshops around Australia to unpack the DT curriculum for teachers of all experience levels. Workshops are hosted by some of the writers of the DT curriculum; Their in-depth knowledge helps to clarify the key concepts and demonstrate its future relevance to students’ careers.

“If we’re learning about robotics, I’ll ask, ‘What sort of jobs require the making of robotics?’” says James. Although James might be waiting a few years to see the career development of his future-focused classroom, inspiring excitement and wonder is an instant reward.

“Being a five and six class, a lot of them don’t know what they want to be yet. This class is getting them interested and excited about computers and thinking about the future.”

– Eliza Brockwell

Creating a future focused STEM classroom with STEM activities and coding challenges, Australian Computing Academy
Mr Davies in his classroom at Croydon Public

Visit the Teacher’s Hub for more information on CareerswithSTEM.com.au for teachers. Find more coding challenges and STEM activities for classrooms.

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Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.

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