Design Thinking

At the start of the year teachers at PBAS were presented with the engineering design process. Engineering is a key component of the STEM pedagogy and it is important that students and teachers develop a common understanding of the process and why it is important.  For a  detailed explanation of this process visit the Teaching Engineering website.

Get access to the Engineering Design Process poster HERE.

Get access to the Engineering Design Process explanation HERE.



To help reinforce the idea of design thinking watch how Mandi Dimitriadis from Makers Empire explains the process using a Year 1 class and their problem of identical looking school bags.

This video is from a new Professional Development series presented by Makers Empire for teachers which includes three units:

  1. Teaching in 3D (Introduction, Planning & Designing Tasks, Integration, Design Thinking)
  2. Using Lesson Plans (Introduction, Lesson Library, Creating and Sharing)
  3. Getting the most from Makers Empire (Introduction, Deeper Engagement, Managing 3D Printing, Implementation)

This Professional Development series is available to PBAS staff by logging into our Makers Empire Dashboard and clicking on Professional Development in the side bar. If you need a log in see Nick to organise one.

3D Printing Catapult Challenge

At the end of 2018 we ran a STEM catapult challenge with our Year 9 class as a trial for future STEM programs at Years 7-10. Below are links to the resources we developed. The program also contains reflections about what went well and what didn’t. Feel free to borrow these resources and modify to suit your cohort or Year level.

Yr 9 STEM Catapult program with teacher feedback-2950sl7

Year 9 STEM Catapult Challenge Task Sheet-2e2xxcg

Engineer Design Process Student Booklet-1hajjfp

Catapults STEM-1usdi6j

Makers Empire refelction-ryh3rb

Makers Empire Introductory Lesson-2d8obzq

Does your seating plan impact on the support you give to certain students?

I recently completed an observation with our Year 1/2 teacher and a supporting SSO. The purpose of the observation was to determine if some students were missing out on 1:1 support and if others were getting significantly large amounts of 1:1 time. The class was a maths problem solving lesson and involved the teacher and an SSO (SSO role was to support all students).

There are many things that contribute to who receives support in a classroom, level of student knowledge, disruptive behaviour, who puts their hand up etc. While these have all been discussed as part of the follow up to the observation it was interesting to observe a pattern in the data linked to student seating in the classroom. This was not something we had been looking for.

Note: This photo was not taken during the observation but later when most students were out of the classroom.


Connections between student support data and the seating plan:

  • The boxes containing a percentage represent a student and where they sit. The percentage represents the amount of 1:1 teacher time they received during the lesson.
  • The yellow students are in the central walk way. Even without the data it was obvious the movement of teacher and SSO was back and forth through this area.
  • The large coloured box is the average 1:1 time for each coloured section.
  • The yellow students received 33% more 1:1 support time than the green students.
  • The yellow students received 48% more 1:1 time than the red students.
  • On average the yellow students received approximately 41% more 1:1 time than the rest of the class.
  • Interestingly the lowest student (blue 1%) is not clearly linked to any path the teacher or SSO was taking. This was due to limited space between this student and the desks behind them.
  • Interestingly not all percentages are equal. During my observations it was clear that the yellow students received more consistent support. Yellow students got regular feedback. The green student who got 5% support time received all of this in the last few minutes of a 50 minute lesson. A yellow student with the same percentage of support was receiving help then 10 minutes later had the teacher/SSO checking in with them to see how they had gone. This pattern of less consistent support was observed with almost all red and green students.

This data is from a single lesson so it is hardly conclusive but it does make for an interesting discussion.

Does your seating plan create a path that you unconsciously follow? If so does this mean some students get more access to your support due to where they sit?

Engineers Australia

“Engineers Australia is the largest and most diverse body of engineers in Australia. As Australia’s principal engineering association we serve and represent around 100,000 professionals at every level, across all fields of practice. We are committed to advancing engineering and the professional development of our members.” 

As well as being the “largest and most diverse body of engineers in Australia” the Engineers Australia website provides resources for the following groups:

  • Primary students: “EngQuest is a free, hands-on science, technology, engineering and maths program that is loads of fun for students.”
  • Secondary students: Becoming an engineer – “Learn how to attain qualifications for Australia’s most trusted profession.”
  • Educators and Advisors: Resources and information for educators committed to guiding Australian students who are interested in engineering.
  • Parents and caregivers: “Is your child showing an interest in engineering? Engineers Australia can give you the resources, insights and information you need to help guide them towards a rewarding future.” 
  • Explore engineering careers: “Explore and learn about engineering pathways. What is engineering? The future of engineering.” 


Who gets all your attention?

Late last term and early this term Tanya asked me to monitor the time spent by her and SSO’s in the 7/8 math class with individual students. The purpose was to identify students who were monopolising teacher/SSO time.

All students deserve 1:1 teacher support. Do they get it every lesson or even every week? Probably not. Anyone who has taught understands it’s not possible to provide genuine well thought out feedback and support to every student in a 50 minute lesson. Even week by week it is hard to ensure equity of support. As lessons pass by we can fall into the trap of providing feedback and support to the same handful of students.

It is a never ending problem in the classroom. Who gets my support next? Its like triage in the emergency department of a hospital. Who will suffer the most if I don’t help them now! This often means the students that need to be extended beyond the core curriculum, the ones coping with the learning are the ones who don’t receive much, if any attention.

There are many reasons why some students attract significant teacher support and others seem to hardly get noticed. Everything from confidence (lots or lack of), personality, behaviour, lack of persistence, subject knowledge, absence, interest in the subject and the relationship the student has with the teacher or SSO. We can probably all recognise the following types of students in our classrooms.

  1. The student who asks for help when required (this could be any ability level student).
    • I’m good at this subject and I want to know more.
    • I don’t understand some things and will ask for help when I need it.
    • I really struggle with this subject but I am happy to put my hand up and ask for help.
  2. The student who constantly demands teacher attention (this could be any ability level student).
    • I’m nervous and lack confidence. I don’t want to try anything without teacher support because I don’t want to get it wrong, I always need help!
    • I just want attention! I complain I don’t get enough help and I act up when I’m not getting 1:1 attention.
    • I know everything pick me, pick me! I like to show you what I’ve done and have you tell me I’m right.
  3. The student who does not demand attention (this could be any ability level student).
    • I’m good at this subject I can do this work and don’t want any help. I don’t really want to extend myself either so I’ll keep quiet.
    • I don’t like this subject or putting in effort. I’ve learnt not to draw attention to myself so the teacher will ignore me.
    • I would like to ask questions but lack confidence and don’t want to appear dumb.

Tanya’s Data

Tanya’s math class has 17 students. The data below was a result of teacher and SSO support time totalling 159 minutes over a number of lessons.

It is interesting to note that 2 students (A and B) took up almost half (43%) of the 1:1 support provided while 5 students (students A – E) took up 77% of the 159 minutes of support time provided by the two adults (teacher and SSO). The data also suggests that 11 students received no significant help (2% or less of the support time) to challenge or extend their learning in that same period.

Tanya’s Data – Data based on 159 minutes of teacher and SSO support time


Questions to ask:

  • Do I acknowledge that certain students are monopolising my time to the detriment of others?
  • Could I develop a simple tracking tool to help track my 1:1 support of students?
    • Would this tracking tool be realistic to maintain? Or is it an idea that may fade away after a week?
  • What are the reasons these students are taking so much of my time?
    • Is it because they have no other strategies.
    • Is it genuinely needed?
    • Do they lack persistence?
  • Do I expect students to persist beyond “I tried once and didn’t get it” before asking for my help? Do I explicitly state and teach this?
  • Do I expect students will work through a series of options before asking me for help? For example:
    • Use the text book or other resource to try and solve the problem. Re read examples.
    • Persist with multiple attempts regardless of how successful (that persistence may pay off).
    • Use another student (try multiple students if required) to try and solve the problem.

How do you ensure students in your class are receiving the adequate 1:1 support they require to extend their learning?


Note: To record data for Tanya’s lesson observations I used an app called ATracker PRO.

Sphero Robots

Paul and Tim have been doing a lot of work with the Sphero robots and the Year 5/6 class. Students have been manually controlling the Spheros’ in activities like Sphero soccer while also developing block coding skills to move the Spheros through a maze. Students have experienced high levels of engagement, great collaboration, problem solving and the use of mathematical and scientific concepts. The other great thing to come from these lessons is the learning that Paul and Tim have experienced alongside the students, never having used Spheros before.

Sphero Soccer (Black ball is the soccer ball. Two teams Green/Blue & Red/Pink/Yellow)

Coding a Sphero to go through a maze


Putting STEM education into perspective

The DEC Intranet provides some useful resources around STEM including information about STEM learning and its importance, STEM learning programs and STEM learning resources.

One of the resources is a best advice paper titled Putting STEM education into perspective. The purpose of this paper is to clear up misconceptions about STEM education. I have summarised the key points.

  • STEM is not new emerging in the 1990s in the U.S.A. Much as it is now, the driving forces were economic and political. The original focus was science and maths. Technologies evolved within this framework in the later 90’s.
  • There is speculation about what STEM actually is. Some see it as only pertaining to an interdisciplinary focus (Breiner, Johnson, Harkness & Koehler, 2012). While The National STEM School Education Strategy states: STEM education is a term used to refer collectively to the teaching of the disciplines within its umbrella: science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and also, to a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching (Education Council, 2015, p.5).
  • The paper highlights real world examples of connections between the each. Examples provided include connections between two subject areas to all four.

At the centre of the figure is integration across the four areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Again, using the telescope example, current construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope in the Chilean Andes moves beyond technology to become a mathematical and engineering feat, given its seven 8.4m mirrors and aperture of 24.5m. It is predicted that this mega-telescope and others will increase our current understanding of the nature of the universe exponentially (Spinks, 2016). 

  • In more recent times STEM has been seen as seperate to its four foundational areas making STEM a separate entity. The rhetoric communicated around this view is that unless children or students are building, designing and solving problems they are ’not doing STEM’. 
    • STEM as a seperate entity is often accompanied by the idea that the pedagogy is the focus and this will automatically allow students to learn, for example problem solving, problem based learning, collaboration and group work. Missing from this thinking is a focus on ‘traditional’ content knowledge.
    • There is no educational premise for STEM being a separate entity (taught isolated from the weekly maths, science and technology lessons). When taught as a separate entity the risk is focusing on the associated pedagogies with little thought for content knowledge which is required to successfully explore authentic problems.
    • While these pedagogies are effective, content discipline knowledge is a requirement, as is teacher direction and guidance. In actual fact, using these pedagogies appropriately requires considerable skill and teacher expertise (Rosicka, 2016).

What does this mean for our practice?

  • STEM should not be viewed as a new/separate subject to teach.
  • Depending on your previous practice you may need to adjust your teaching:
    • to create clearer, practical links between the STEM subjects
    • to provide tasks that allow students to apply content knowledge from one or more STEM related disciplines to authentic problems.
  • A lesson of building, making, problem solving, problem based learning (at any year level) is not STEM without the underlying scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical principles being explicitly identified and applied.
  • We have identified a room in our school which staff and students refer to as the “STEM room”. We must be careful not to associate this with where STEM is taught. It is one of the many spaces STEM can be taught in our school.
  • We should not lose sight of the importance of content knowledge, careful teacher guidance and explicit teaching. While Hattie can often polarise educators I think he explains this well in the following video discussing why pedagogies like inquiry based learning can fall down without the supporting content knowledge.