Trees and STEM take students beyond the classroom

In two years the tiny saplings planted at a forestry and koala offset in Mutdapilly now tower over the students from Goodna State School.

The site has 65ha planted with 35,000 trees that are mostly koala habitat species Queensland Blue Gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis) and Grey Box (Eucalyptus moluccana).

Each year students from the school’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Ambassador program have returned, using everything from drones to tape measures to observe, record and discover.

Science teacher Sharon Williams said there were GPS marked reference sites where students record the height, health and girth of the five closest trees, and extra activities such as testing the soil pH levels and soil profile.

“What I’ve noticed is that there are children who are good at classroom science, who are really good at making observations and can draw conclusions,” she said.

“What I find when we add this to the experience is they start to think big about science, big about the real world and have big ideas about the environment. I like seeing them have a tangible experience.”

Goodna State School has a range of STEM related activities, from visits to various sites such as the Mutdapilly offset, through to managing a commercial-grade worm farm, even programming and flying mini-drones.

Year 6 student Jordis wants to apply for a STEM program when she goes to high school next year. This is her second visit to the Mutdapilly site.

“I’ve enjoyed seeing the results from last year and seeing how it’s grown,” she said.

Year 5 student Thomas was at the site for the first time, but within an hour was already developing a hypothesis about tree species being able to fight disease.

School Principal and STEM coordinator Dan Dempsey said the school was lucky to have support from visionary people, including a letters from Sir David Attenborough and Dr Bob Brown, a science patron in Archibald Prize winner Davida Allen, and a visit from the founder of Franklin Women Dr Melina Georgousakis.

“We’re constantly humbled by the willingness of prominent people in our cultural and academic communities who go well out of their ways to help our children,” he said.

Mr Dempsey said the involvement of exceptional people inspired the school’s creative approach to curriculum.

“There’s been a lot talk in the media about Australia’s rankings in Mathematics and Science. I think the most important thing for primary school children is to make sure they’re engaged enough to want to pursue STEM subjects in high school,” he said.

“We need to nurture children’s natural curiosity and capture it within the rigour and reliability of the scientific process.”

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