3 ways for teachers to increase the number of girls in high level maths

A sketchnote for the article “I would rather die: reasons given by 16 year olds for not continuing their study of mathematics”

The article highlights the key role that a teacher can play in the classroom. Teachers have more influence over student decisions to continue in a subject than they think! It is empowering to note that teachers can take action to address the 3 main issues that surround the non-participation in mathematics. Go teachers!

Why do girls pick science?

A sketchnote for the article “I want to be a scientist/a teacher: students’ perceptions of career decision-making in gender-typed non-traditional areas of work”

The article highlights the importance of family support, and positive family role models, in having girls choose to study and continue with science.

The big question remaining is how can we influence parental perceptions of science and technology, to encourage more women to study and participate in these traditionally male-dominated fields?

The barriers to girls doing physics

A sketchnote for the article “Girls and Physics: Continuing barriers on ‘belonging'”

The article raises some interesting points – Physics textbooks and contexts of questions are masculine, which can decrease girls’ sense of ‘belonging’, even within a single sex class or school.

There are many reasons why girls don’t go into Physics – many of which can be actively addressed by teachers in their course and assessment design.

A STEM Christmas

Ideas for Christmas themed STEM projects at school.


As the end of the year approaches, Christmas trees are decorated, outdoor light displays are hung, and teachers look for Christmas themed STEM projects. Here are some of our favourite ideas for combining maths, science, technology, engineering and a bit of art in December.

The Christmas light display

We now have prizes for the best street/town/house decked out in Christmas lights…but what about the environmental and economic cost of running all those lights?

Design a light display given constraints of area, cost or other (e.g. must fit a 3mx3mx3m front yard area, with purchase of lights not exceeding $500). Assume a certain number of dark hours per day and calculate how many hours the lights will be on during the month of December. Using an electricity bill as a guide, calculate the cost of running these lights. Compare the usage and cost of different types of lights e.g. LED vs solar powered. Construct your own to-scale model using LEDs and your own circuit wires (either conductive ink pens on paper or alligator wires or insulated wires. Bonus marks for programming the lights to flash in a pattern to Christmas music.

Maths – calculating cost, efficiency, hours, to-scale drawings

Science – electric circuits, energy efficiency, sustainability

Technology – electric circuits, coding programmable lights to music

Engineering – to-scale model construction of yard/house and lights

Art – design of light display (shape, size, models)

Community – collate findings on economic and environmental costs and make recommendations to local council on how to manage light displays in the local area.

The Christmas story

Create an interactive museum gallery exhibition on the history of Christmas.

Using history/geography/HASS or religion as a context, research an aspect of Christmas that has a timeline or map associated with it e.g. the biblical story of Christmas from conception to the visit of the Wise Men; the origins and development of Christmas celebrations from St Nicholas to Santa; different ‘Father Christmas’ characters around the world in different countries.

Create an interactive map or to-scale timeline of the research using QR codes that can be scanned to pop up a video or image, or AR pop-ups (e.g. layar.com or aurasma.com or zap.works) to link the printed timeline/map with digital images/video/audio giving more detail on each date/place.

Maths – to-scale timelines

Technology – video, AR

HASS/RE – history of Christmas celebrations

Community – share displays with a local museum or library and ask them to host/curate/give real feedback on your museum displays.

The Santa Sleigh

It’s just as well Santa has magic, otherwise how else could he make it to all those houses in one night?

Option 1: Calculate the speed Santa’s sleigh must travel to be able to reach every child by dawn of Christmas day. You could calculate this in terms of how many children (and thus how fast each visit must be to fit within 24 hours) or more simply, the distance covered in circumnavigating the globe to fit in this time.

Option 2: Conduct time trials from the front door (or footpath, where ever you think Santa’s sleigh will pull up) to the tree. Conduct 10 time trials and average the time it takes to run from the front door to the tree to conduct a ‘delivery’. Calculate how many ‘deliveries’ can be done in 24 hours and hence the maximum number of children who can receive presents in one day.

Once the calculations have been done, construct a to-scale model of a more aerodynamic sleigh, aimed at reduced air resistance and friction, to help Santa move more quickly and get his deliveries done.

Maths – calculating times, distances, speed, averages

Science – motion, random error reduction and collecting data, friction (air resistance)

Engineering – to-scale model construction of sleigh with aerodynamic properties

Community – engage the services of someone to prototype your new sleigh design as a new float in the next Christmas pageant in your city/town!

The Christmas tree farm

What’s better – a plastic Christmas tree or a live tree?

Call up a local tree farm. Find out the height that they cut trees, and how old these trees would be. From this data calculate the average rate of growth.

Ask the farm what their predicted number of tree sales each year is. From the average rate of growth and number of tree sales, calculate the number of pine trees that must be planted each year to replace what is cut down. Graph it. Conduct a survey to see what features of live trees and plastic trees people value and find attractive. Complete some research and weigh up the sustainability of a live tree against the sustainability of a plastic tree. From all this data, prototype a new tree design (potentially made out of a new sustainable material?!)

Maths – calculating cost, rates, averages, graphing, surveys

Science – sustainability, photosynthesis, tree growth

Engineering – prototyping of tree tree design

Community – interaction with tree farm, surveying people, and potential commericalisation of new tree design/material

A sparkly Christmas

The sounds of Christmas – why does Michael Buble sound so good?

Prototype and construct a light and sound Christmas decoration spectacular that plays carols when a motion sensor (or light or other sensor or just when the circuit is connected e.g. by stepping on it) is activated. Make changes to the sound in terms of pitch and loudness and relate this to the properties of sound waves.

Science – sound waves – amplitude and frequency

Engineering – prototyping of decoration

Technology – electric circuit, sensors and coding of decoration (depending on the activity)

Community – put the decoration in a public place or on your classroom door so everyone can enjoy the music as they walk past!

Get Inspired

We’d love to hear from you if you explore A STEMy Christmas in your classes, or if you have other ideas or feedback on how have a STEMy Christmas at school. Merry Christmas!

Keep calm and throw out your textbook!

Don’t be scared – there are benefits to throwing out the textbook when teaching!


There are lots of reasons for teaching without a textbook. Having a middle school science classroom driven by a textbook is neither beneficial to student learning or skill development. Seth Godin in Linchpin says schools should teach students only two things – how to solve interesting problems and how to lead. I don’t think either of those things can be taught through a textbook. The Foundation for Young Australian’s The New Basics Report talks about the essential enterprise skills that young people will need to navigate their careers (17 jobs in 5 industries is predicted for a now 15 year old in their working life). Again, I fail to see how a textbook could help teach any of the enterprise skills listed in the report: creativity, problem solving, communication skills, teamwork, digital literacy, critical thinking and presentation skills.

10 reasons to throw out your textbook

1. Be more creative in the content and presentation of it.

2.Facilitate differentiation: how many textbooks come with alternative worksheets, different levels of scaffolding, options for extension? How many textbooks can provide options according to personal interest, present according to learning profile? Moving away from a fixed textbook allows you the freedom to differentiate your instruction, your assessments, your practical tasks.

3. Be modern: You might have the most recent textbook, but can it keep up with day-to-day events, with the news? To harness student interest and ‘hook’ them, taking current news articles or modern pop culture references/parodies/memes is a great way.

4.Cheaper: there are a huge range of free, online resources. These cost nothing, and so are a much cheaper option for resourcing your classroom that buying a textbook per child.

5.Tailored to context: Being able to tailor your content to the context is so important in connecting students to their learning, and connecting them to a community for their learning. Curriculum is often divorced from students’ own lives and there is a need to personalise and involve students. Without a textbook, you can study your local area, involve local industry, adapt the content to address an issue in students’ lives…e.g. rather than looking at air quality and pollution and acid rain in Europe, why not look at your own community and the air and water quality in the local area? Dr Milton Chen talks passionately about students being connected to place as part of their learning.

6.Easily changed: Linked to the above point – it’s difficult to change a textbook, but easy to change teaching when you don’t have one. Need to change a ‘science fact’ (Pluto is no longer a planet), want to update some statistics (the world population is now 7.5 billion), want to reflect a current event (most recent local earthquake), do students no longer like Justin Bieber and are now into Ed Sheeran?

7.Fits one-to-one devices: Learning Management Systems is how a lot of schools are planning and distributing learning materials these days. You can source videos, simulations, games, lectures, reading materials, forums, polls, and other online resources and tools. Students with a device can access these resources anytime, anywhere with internet.

8.Focus on Science Inquiry: Inquiry skills of proposing problems, investigating questions, collecting data, conducting experiments, measuring variables, displaying data, communicating findings – they are hands-on skills and students need to experience science and the wonder of inquiry to authentically grow these skills. That comes from doing science, not reading about science in a textbook. I would encourage you to consider science lessons as at least 50% hands-on!

9.Allow time for in-depth study: Rather than surface learning and skimming pages of content, encourage deep learning that comes from project/problem based learning, from research into topics of interest, from science inquiry.

10.Allow for inter-disciplinary teaching: In mapping the skills and content of curriculum, you may notice overlap in several areas. Science teachers have teamed up for the past 3 years with HASS/Geography teachers in year 9 to co-teach our Ecosystems/Biomes respective units and go on a joint field trip and complete a joint authentic inter-disciplinary task. These rich connections between subject areas consolidate the content, allow students go learn deeply and broadly, and gives real world relevance to their learning.


Get Inspired


We’d love to hear from you if you explored no-textbook teaching in your class, or if you have other ideas or feedback on how to. Good luck!

STEM Day Ideas #1

Ideas for special STEM days for immersion and deep play for students in middle years.


Sometimes it is nice to be able to immerse students in a whole day of STEM activities, away from the constraints of everyday lessons and bells.

Impactful STEM days can provide something different to what is normally done in class. They can address big problems in the world or society, and allow students to creatively come up with solutions, engage in enterprise and work collaboratively.

Following an engineering design model, here’s an idea:

STEM Day – The War on Waste

1. State the problem: Explore the problem of human consumption and waste e.g. through watching the ABC’s War on Waste series. http://www.abc.net.au/ourfocus/waronwaste/

2. Generate ideas: Use post it notes, mind maps, ‘roots and branches’ tree problem unpackers, padlets or other, in groups, to generate ideas to one specific problem around waste. Try to get to 100 ideas!

3. Select a solution: choose one solution that is simple, cheap, and effective.

4. Prototype the item: build, storyboard or otherwise prototype the chosen solution.

5. Evaluate: collect some user data e.g. through testing the use, consumer surveys etc and make changes to the design and model to reflect learnings. Aim for three iterations.

6. Present results: Showcase the completed prototype or produce a short video to pitch the solution to the wider group or school.

Build Your Own STEM Adventure – Insulated Space Suits

Ideas for integrated STEM projects that align to the ACARA science understandings.


Insulated Space Suits

ACARA Science Alignment: Physical Sciences – Energy transfer through different mediums can be explained using wave and particle models (ACSSU182 – Scootle )

Suggested Year Level: Year 9

Project: Students work in groups to design, perform and report on an experiment investigating insulation and heat transfer. Students apply their experimental findings, in collaboration with other research collected by the class, to suggest the best thickness, material, colour etc of a highly insulating space suit.



If humans travel to Mars in the future, we will need good insulation in their space suits to survive the cold temperatures on Mars (https://www.space.com/16907-what-is-the-temperature-of-mars.html)

STEM links: boost the connections with different disciplines by

· Maths – have students record temperature over time and graph using software, then finding equations of best fit.

· Science –Use scientific inquiry to design and perform a fair test that alters one factor (e.g. thickness of insulation, type of insulating material, colour of insulation) in the design and determines the effect on temperature stability (i.e. insulation). Students could use dry ice or liquid nitrogen (or just ice cubes) to simulate the coldness experienced on an average day on Mars to test their insulating materials (cloth, newspaper, craft polyfill, house insulation, cotton wool, packing peanuts, alfoil etc). Students could present their individual experimental findings on a scientific poster, which gets presented and shared with the class in a display so students can collaborate and learn from each other’s fair tests.

· Technology – have students use probes or temperature sensors to record and measure the temperature over time

· English – have students write scientific papers/posters/journals to share their experimental findings in the specific writing format: scientific writing.

· Art/Design/Fashion – students could design and construct a life size space suit using insulating materials and showcase in a fashion show.

Get Inspired


We’d love to hear from you if you explore insulated space suits in your class, or if you have other ideas or feedback on how to use this Build Your Own STEM Adventure. Good luck!

Build Your Own STEM Adventure – Earthquake Proof Buildings

Ideas for integrated STEM projects that align to the ACARA science understandings.


Earthquake Proof Buildings

ACARA Science Alignment: Earth and Space Sciences – The theory of plate tectonics explains global patterns of geological activity and continental movement (ACSSU180 – Scootle )

Suggested Year Level: Year 9

Project: Students work in groups to design on paper, prototype using fun edible materials (e.g. toothpicks and mini marshmallows in a jelly plate), then build and test using construction materials (e.g. Styrofoam blocks, straw construction sets, lego or mechano), a 2 story construction that can survive a shake table ‘earthquake’ for 10-30 seconds.


Watch the Catalyst episode on earthquake resistant building techniques in Japan, http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/2948245.htm

STEM links: boost the connections with different disciplines by

Maths – have students film in slow motion either their own building during the simulated earthquake, or using film footage from real earthquakes. Students can take measurements to calculate the distance the building moves/sways/wobbles from the centre, and express this as a percentage or graph it over time or against the magnitude of the quake.

· Science – have students explain how their design assists in earthquake resistance, while using key terms from a word bank such as liquefaction, p and s wave, epicentre, transform boundary etc. Use scientific inquiry to design and perform a fair test that alters one factor (e.g. height of building, depth of foundations, mass of inner column) in the design and determines the effect on stability.

· Engineering – have students design, construct and test the building while following an engineering design model. Build using everyday materials found around the kitchen, school and home.

· Technology – have students use apps to measure and record the magnitude of their ‘earthquake’ e.g. Richter scale phone apps.

· English – have students write newspaper articles, poems or historical fiction to recount the experience of surviving an earthquake.

· HASS – research different earthquakes and plot on a map to see if they align with plate boundaries. Explore different soil types and how they affect liquefaction.

Get Inspired

We’d love to hear from you if you build earthquake proof buildings in your class, or if you have other ideas or feedback on how to use this Build Your Own STEM Adventure. Good luck!