8 Sydney Schools Celebrate STEM Learning and Real-World Problem Solving with Makers Empire

Eight Sydney schools recently came together for an online showcase celebrating their students learning about Design Thinking and real-world problem solving with Makers Empire, 3D design and 3D printing.

Following on from the 2019 Sydney Maker Pedagogy Network Project, the 2020 Sydney Maker Pedagogy Network Project ran from February to October this year. Taking part were eight Sydney schools and 21 teachers from Berala Public School, Carlingford West Public School, Guildford West Public School, Granville Public School, JJ Cahill Public School, Leppington Public School, Maroubra Junction Public School and Westmead Public School.

MPNP Goals and Objectives

The Maker Pedagogy Network Project (MPNP) is designed to develop sustainable and scalable models of professional learning that lead to effective implementation of maker pedagogies, STEM learning outcomes and improvement in students’ critical, creative and Design Thinking abilities.

The MPNP works towards the goals of the National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026 by engaging students in exciting, challenging STEM learning that is connected to their real-world experiences; helping teachers to develop pedagogical approaches that enable students to combine STEM knowledge with critical, creative and design thinking; and building teacher capacity as mentors in their own and other sites. 

To achieve this, MPNP participants undertook Makers Empire’s popular Learning by Design course, which has been shown by Macquarie University research to improve learning outcomes. 

Students participating in the Maker Pedagogy Network Project:

  1. Addressed the new NSW Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus with a focus on Design and Production.
  2. Developed their creativity and important critical thinking, Design Thinking and digital skills.
  3. Learned how to solve real-world problems with Design Thinking.

Teachers participating in the Maker Pedagogy Network Project:

  1. Completed full days of professional development including 20+ hours of NESA accredited professional development at the Proficient Teacher level.
  2. Developed pedagogical approaches that enable students to develop deep technological knowledge as well as critical, creative and Design Thinking skills.
  3. Were supported to design innovative learning programs that provide authentic, meaningful contexts for students to engage in STEM and maker-based learning using 3D design and printing.
  4. Activated the potential of 3D technologies to develop and enhance students’ 21st-century learning skills.
  5. Became more comfortable with technology and more collaborative and flexible in their teaching., 

COVID-19 Disruption and Changes to the Program

As has been the norm in 2020, the MPNP’s original plans had to be adapted to take into account the changing rules around state-wide lockdowns, social distancing and remote learning and remote working. 

Mandi Dimitriadis, Director of Learning at Makers Empire said, “the 2020 pandemic had a significant impact on the project. Luckily, we were able to complete our two face to face days of PD in February before moving the remainder of the project online due to Covid-19 restrictions. We extended the timeline to allow teachers time to find ways to continue with the project within their new ways of working. We also connected regularly using Zoom and culminated the project with our first-ever online showcase.”

However, problems created by the global pandemic actually became the focus of student projects in the program.  

“The 2020 context actually provided some unique opportunities for students to solve real-world problems. We saw solutions for front line workers including hands-free gadgets, and project for including students who were still learning at home in classroom learning activities,” Mandi said.

Examples of Student Projects

Check out these two great videos made by grade 1 and grade 3 students at Westmead Public school:

Another participating school, Carlingford West Public School, incorporated solving real-life COVID-19 related problems into their student’s projects. Examples of design solutions created included 3D printed hands-free door and window openers and ear protectors for health workers wearing masks (see below).  

Carlingford West Public School teacher, Jaclyn Byrne, said, “my class loved how they were all involved and included in the project. They could work at their own pace with their designs, testing and modifying. They came up with their own ‘covid-safe’ ‘contact less’ contraptions for people to use to minimise germs spread when opening doors, windows, turning taps and switching on lights.”

You can view a slideshow of Carlingford West Public School’s projects here.

Carlingford West Public School have big plans for 2021, too.

“(We’re) excited to be using the new 11 3D printers we have installed in a special hub at our school,’ said Jaclyn.

“I am now working with (fellow teacher) Luke Drain to roll out a plan for the school and ensure the process for every student (all 1700 of them!) to have access to 3D printing and ensure Design Thinking projects are embedded in teaching programs across K-6 from 2021. I suggested to Luke Drain we set up a Google Form for students to submit their thoughts and reflection of their designs based on the process before we press print so they are ensuring they are dedicating time to actually thinking through the process and not rushing to print… Once again, thank you and I will definitely stay in touch with you all! I couldn’t love Makers (Empire) more!” she added. 

Another teacher who participated in the MPNP found the student engagement and collaboration that resulted an unexpected and welcome benefit. 

“For me, I really enjoyed seeing how engaged they were throughout the whole process, but especially in the Makers Empire app. Students who typically struggle to work in a team were working collaboratively and productively and it was really pleasing,” she said.  

All in all, unavoidable 2020 disruptions aside, the MPNP Sydney 2020 was a resounding success. 

Mandi Dimitriadis, Director of Learning, said, “The 2020 cohort in the Maker Pedagogy Network Project were an enthusiastic and fantastic group of teachers to work with. I feel inspired by the creative, real-world problems students tackled using design thinking and Makers Empire in this project. I would like to congratulate the teachers and students on their resilience, patience, creativity, and resourceful approach to learning throughout this project.”


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