Wednesday 29 November 2023

BrainSTEM Schools Challenge

In 2023, students in Years 8 and 9 who are enthusiastic about STEM were invited to take part in the BrainSTEM Schools Challenge Days. This program brings together high-ability students from schools across Melbourne to help solve some challenging issues facing our society today. The termly challenge days each have a different theme, and this semester, students looked at the themes of energy consumption, the circular economy, and accessible design.

Every BrainSTEM Challenge Day begins with a panel talk with experts from industries related to the day’s theme. Students hear about projects and new technologies currently in development and are advised by these industry leaders on how they can make a difference.

Next, students are divided into mixed-school groups, where they are given a design challenge to solve, using the UN Sustainability Goals to frame their solution. The groups participate in a design sprint, where they are led through the 5 steps of the Design Thinking process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Each group then has one minute to give their “elevator pitch” solution to the judges, and an overall winner is selected based on the group’s idea and their ability to communicate it effectively. Overall, each Challenge Day provides students with the opportunity to develop a range of skills, such as:

  • Teamwork
  • Design thinking process
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Brainstorming
  • Communication

‘Participating in this challenge really improved my understanding of how to use the Design Thinking process. The format made it clear how to use each stage of the process, and I liked how we had a timed limit for each stage. We also needed to learn quickly how to work with students from other schools to solve a hard problem. Prior to participating, I wasn’t sure if I should miss my regular classes to spend the day at BrainSTEM, but it was definitely worth it! I learned and used so many skills in such a short amount of time: public speaking, problem-solving, design thinking, group work, and critical thinking, to name a few.’ (Oscar, Year 9, 2023)

‘Being able to meet new people and talk to students who really wanted to be there, and engage with the challenge, was a highlight and what made this different from a normal day at school. It was a really good experience to be thrown together with people I didn’t know and try to work with all the different personalities – I think that is a skill I will need when I am in the workforce.’ (Lucy, Year 9, 2023)

‘The ideas and information presented connected to things I am quite interested in, such as saving the economy and environment for future generations. I enjoyed hearing professionals on the topic share their views and give a more in-depth explanation and perspective. It really helped me open my eyes to a wider view of the environmental issues, and all of the challenges underlying them. All the ideas around the circular economy started making me think about what I can do to help. It was really beneficial for me to hear from all these experts.’ (Adam, Year 8, 2023)