Monday 04 September 2023

STEM Enrichment Program

In 2023, an exciting development at University Campus was the inaugural STEM Enrichment Program in partnership with La Trobe University. The program was designed with a focus on providing enrichment opportunities to Ivanhoe students in the areas of Mathematics and Sciences at levels that go beyond secondary education. Our Year 9 students engaged directly with La Trobe University academics, professors and research fellows to develop skills and modes of thought in modules centred around Radioactive Decay, Enhanced Problem Solving and Cryptography.

In Term 3, students developed valuable skill sets in the module of Enhanced Problem Solving. The workshops were facilitated by Dr Connie Darmanin (Senior Research Fellow at La Trobe University) and Professor Marcel Jackson (Associate Dean of the School of Computing, Engineering & Mathematical Sciences at La Trobe University). Connie and Marcel facilitated interactive and engaging workshops on Wednesday afternoons for Year 9 students, helping them to develop important skill sets to solve unfamiliar and difficult problems. Students used their imagination, experience and newly acquired techniques to solve problems in a new and exciting way. This process of imaginative problem-solving is useful everywhere, and critical thinking is important: Data Scientists, Air Traffic controllers, Accountants and Engineers all use these skills both routinely and in emergencies. Our Year 9 students worked collaboratively in groups. They were stimulated by the ‘Escape room’ experience where they needed to solve problems to progress through a scenario.

On the evening of Wednesday 23 August, a team of Year 9 students competed against a team of La Trobe University postgraduate students and Ivanhoe teachers. Year 9 students were given a set of problems to solve by La Trobe University academics. The opposing team, comprised of La Trobe University postgraduate students and teachers was given a set of problems that were created by the Year 9 students. The result was that the Year 9 student team finished the quickest and won! Deputy Principal and Head of Plenty Campus Mrs Fiona Devlin, who was a member of the teacher’s team, was very impressed,  ‘I cannot believe the students came up with those questions, I am still processing some of them,’ she said.  It was a wonderful night filled with good energy, fun and excitement and all participants thoroughly enjoyed the competition. Well done to Teacher Ying Zhang for her tireless work on this program.

The following is a reflection by a Year 9 STEM Enrichment student, Maggie.

‘Over the course of Term 3, I had the opportunity to attend the after-school Stem Club sessions at La Trobe University. This term we had a focus on problem solving and escape rooms. We spent our sessions undertaking a series of problems connected by a unique scenario and we used escape room boxes which added another layer of pressure and excitement. At first, the problems seemed really overwhelming and nearly impossible since more often than not we didn’t even know where to begin. However, after collaborating with my peers and with the guidance of the staff from the University, I noticeably improved in working on problems and building my understanding of how to approach problems.
We were presented with problems involving geometry, algebra, algorithms and more. It was also an exercise in creativity since the most obvious path to the solution usually wasn’t the right one and as we went along, it became a struggle to actually interpret what the question was asking for. So, we also had the chance to learn how to filter out unnecessary information. Overall, all of these skills will definitely be something I can apply to my school work and to other problems I encounter because breaking down situations and finding a method to solve the problem is a universally important skill.

In the final Stem Club session for this term, we actually had the opportunity to create our own problems and compete against postgraduate students from the University and some teachers as well. The group worked together to produce a zombie apocalypse storyline to frame our problems around and we worked to our strengths to develop challenging problems that require the skills we developed. The final session was incredibly enjoyable as we all worked as a team to solve problems in a race against the postgraduates and teachers who were tasked with solving our problems. For the most part, we were successful although this was not without struggles and challenges, but that was a main aspect of the unit all throughout the term. I definitely feel like I have developed a lot through this Program and I am excited to continue next term as this has been an amazing opportunity.’