University of Canberra and Samsung join on STEM education project
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University of Canberra and Samsung join on STEM education project

Canberra students have participated in a world-first research project which has "enormous potential" for improving the maths outcomes of children Australia-wide.

The University of Canberra STEM Education Research Centre and Samsung project led to gains in primary students' mathematics skills equal to one year of learning after just six hours of teaching.

St Clare's College students Heather Mills 16, Erin Burk 15, Tylah Forsyth 17, and Kaylah Edwards 15. The school participated in a program aimed at improving maths outcomes.

St Clare's College students Heather Mills 16, Erin Burk 15, Tylah Forsyth 17, and Kaylah Edwards 15. The school participated in a program aimed at improving maths outcomes.Credit:Jamila Toderas

About 300 year 5 and 6 students in Catholic systemic schools participated in the project, which saw one group swap regular maths lessons for digital and hands-on activities while a second group continued with normal class work.

The experimental group improved their spatial reasoning score by 12 per cent and maths by 20 per cent, while students undertaking normal maths lessons improved their score "very, very slightly", University of Canberra Centenary Professor Thomas Lowrie said.

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Children in the experimental group used existing apps and a University of Canberra-designed program during the three week trial.

"It was incredible," Professor Lowrie said.

"Some people would argue an effect size of .5 can be up to one year of development, so imagine having a six hour period with the children engaging in a learning program with a digital tool that they can have this really rapid rise in their mathematics scores.

"The spike in the intervention group was incredibly pleasing to us."

A second project was undertaken with students in years 7 to 11 at St Francis Xavier College and St Clare's College aimed at helping students use devices to log, analyse and present data on STEM inquiry projects.

Key outcomes included an increase in design-process thinking and inquiry-based learning among participating students.

"They were collecting a whole lot of data on the phones - which included launching a rocket, would you believe, up in the air - and capturing a whole lot of data with this really cool 3D camera that Samsung provided for us that captures a whole lot of data associated with velocity and speed that the children could then take back to the classroom and do some really powerful STEM learning experiences with," Professor Lowrie said.

The findings of the two projects have been submitted to a journal for peer review and were launched in Canberra on Wednesday night.

"The two programs were quite different in nature, but both had enormous potential in where digital tools are used in really productive ways and not used for the sake of using the tools but rather used in a way that was embedded within a rich learning program which enhanced the learning," Professor Lowrie said.

Emily Baker is a reporter for the Sunday Canberra Times. She previously reported on education for The Canberra Times.