One of the ways Schools Plus connects donors and schools in need is through our Smart Giving program. Drawing on the advice of independent education experts and our own knowledge and experience, we identify schools seeking philanthropic support to roll out strategic initiatives that will tackle the greatest challenges facing their students and staff.

This year, we are raising funds for 29 carefully selected projects that will transform the future for nearly 25,000 students at 78 disadvantaged schools across Australia. One of the schools is Warwick Senior High School in Western Australia.

Warwick Senior High School seeks to develop its STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) program and change the thinking of its Year 9 and 10 students, together with their parents/carers. Its project will encourage them to choose STEAM-oriented courses so they can develop the future-focused skills necessary to keep their career options open and meet the demands of the changing workplace.

We chatted with Associate Principal Robyn Cleaver about the potential impact of their program.

There are several funding programs out there. What attracted you to apply for a Schools Plus Smart Giving grant?

Schools are, by far and large, high risk organisations in the sense that they become more about statistics – the number of students who’ve completed the course, NAPLAN scores, number of university placements, ATAR scores, the list goes on. But what Schools Plus offered was a chance to try something new to see whether some ideas we have about changing practice would indeed make a difference and improve educational outcomes.

Schools Plus gives schools freedom – an option to put an idea forward, test it, learn from it, and change the way we run things. And it’s not just about the finances, they provide the discussion, mentoring and reinforcement needed to get a project like this over the line.

What will your school project look like?

Our STEAM program revolves around problem-based learning. The problems might not necessarily be catastrophic world hunger or water crises, but they could be around taking code from a computer screen to make a robot move or using materials that students have available to create something that might allow them to charge their mobile phones. We want to build problem-based learning into our curriculum, particularly in Years 9 and 10, to enable students to have real industry experiences.

Taking students away from completely focusing on theory questions at the end of the chapter in a book to, yes doing a little bit of theory, but also the practical work around that problem will greatly improve our students’ post-school pathways. With this as our base model, the project will have four independent components:

  1. Science: We would like to take our kids outside of the classroom and instead of learning about subjects from textbooks, look at them in an environmental garden. They would be able to test water, grow plants, use aquaponics, look at rainwater collection, and basically learn the reality of what Biology or Chemistry, for example, might do.
  2. Media: Our focus is on taking the students off straight editing – instead of editing already-existing footage, we want them to create that experience from scratch – to use green screen technology and understand that they can put someone anywhere in the world and apply it to their design work.
  3. Digital Technologies: We want to encourage students to build Digital Systems of their own design. Through the provision of electronic add-ons, students will go from working out coding on a screen, to inputting it in wearable technology and other electronic devices, linking design to practical, real world applications.
  4. Engineering: We want students to build things – applying traditional construction techniques to where science meets technology. Through the purchase of chrome-moly tubing, wheels and some bike parts, students will have the tools to re-engineer a trike and race at the Busselton Pedal Prix.

What are the most critical results you expect to see through your partnership with Schools Plus?

In the short to mid-term, we hope to inspire students who would traditionally be considering vocational employment to build their technical/trade skills through STEAM courses.

In Australia, students are generally required to do a broad curriculum in Years 7 and 8, and optional courses in Years 9 and 10, before planning for post-school pathways in Years 11 and 12. What we find with many of our Year 9 and 10 students is that they are attracted to courses that perhaps are fun at the time, which there’s nothing wrong with. It becomes a problem when they unintentionally sabotage their own future pathways based on which courses don’t have too much homework. For example, in engineering or construction, a student may not study trade skills in Years 9 and 10 because they think they’ll get to in Years 11 and 12. They don’t realise that doing certain courses will align better with their careers down the track.

This project will make courses more “enjoyable” to better connect the compulsory nature of the Years 7 and 8 curriculums with the career pathways in Years 11 and 12. If we get this right, we will see courses become more viable, students better prepared as they go into senior school, growth in enrolments in STEAM courses, and eventually, better job outcomes when the students leave school.

In the long-term, we would like to see a cultural shift across the school. We would be able to use successful components from those four areas in other parts of the curriculum, such as humanities and social sciences. Our program leaders will present their learnings to the local primary school and visiting teachers, to pass on their knowledge both within the school and wider system. Sharing strategies and moving forward together promotes sustainability. If one person retains all the information, then the ideas, technology, tools and learnings stay locked away in a cupboard, on their drive, or in their mind. This project will enforce or reinform practice.

The projects in this year’s Smart Giving program will tackle a range of challenges by lifting student attendance, providing greater literacy development and STEM education opportunities, increasing parent engagement and improving student wellbeing. We maximise the impact of every dollar donated by supporting these schools in project design, measurement and evaluation. Click here to help bring to life these major school initiatives, joining other passionate supporters who know the value of education.