STEM skills taken to the paddock

Science Centre goes from lab to field

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The Central Highlands Science Centre took students to a local corn farm, for a Super Science Saturday event.

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Students get amongst the corn.

Students get amongst the corn.

The Central Highlands Science Centre may be the longest continuously running science club in Australia, but it still marked a first recently, with the Super Science Saturday event.

The project came about when Ben Hardy, Pioneer Australia, approached the Central Highlands Science Centre to partner their after-school science clubs with industry.

The idea, chair Lisa Caffery explained, was to give local students an opportunity to see STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in action in the real world – in this case a local corn farm.

Listening intently to the speakers.

Listening intently to the speakers.

“We loved the idea, as we believe STEM-savvy children are the key to sustainable rural and regional communities, so we saw Super Science Saturday as an opportunity for our students to acquire strong STEM skills and develop a love of scientific inquiry by accessing something fun and having a new experience,” she said.

“The event involved 8 to 12 year olds boarding a bus to head to AACo’s Goonoo property near Emerald, with the whole idea being they would become a corn farmer for a day. 

“When people think of farming, there’s a lot of pre-conceived ideas, but to be a farmer you need to have really good science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.”

The program Mr Hardy put together included four different activities, each touching on how STEM skills related to what a corn farmer does.

“Of the STEM skills, we did science activities around plant biology, technology activities using a moisture probe, engineering was learning how a planter works, and finally mathematics involved the students doing plant population counts,” Mr Hardy said.

Checking out the equipment.

Checking out the equipment.

“It was a simple idea to bring STEM to the paddock, but it was extremely effective and rewarding to see how enthusiastic the children were.

“We also really appreciate the time and effort AACO Goonoo farm manager Will Woolcock put into hosting the group.”

Mrs Caffery says the students favourite activity of the day was the plant population counts to demonstrate math skills. 

“They had to use a mathematical equation to work out how many corn kernels there were in a hectare, and in doing so they got to learn how farmers know how much corn they’re going to grow,” Mrs Caffery said. 

“It was phenomenal, one little boy bounced off the bus and just could not stop talking about how he had worked out how many corn kernels there were.

“Storytelling is always a measure of success - when children can’t wait to tell the stories of what they’ve just done, you know you’re on a winner and that was the case with this field trip.”

Mrs Caffery said for students, science isn’t just what happens in the classroom, it’s also what people do on farms, labs and many other places. 

“Linking with industry makes it a real-life experience and that’s what we loved - meeting local farm manager Will Woolcock and Ben Hardy from PioneerÆ brand products helped the children understand the wide range of potential careers in agriculture,” she said. 

“We’d love to expand this project in the future to also link with the local university, so after the field trip the students can do an actual experiment, monitor and record the results.” 

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