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.

50 ways to use Book Creator in the classroom

Book Creator is one of my favourite apps. It can be used in so many ways across every subject/year level and is the most flexible app I have come across for student learning.

Below are some images from the first few pages of the book 50 Ways to use Book Creator in your classroom created by the Book Creator team. To see all 50 uses and access the links on each page in the book click HERE. Evidently number 6 is a really good read!

No Feedback No Learning! A comprehensive guide to feedback in the classroom with Professor Paul Kirschner

Join James Simms (The EverLearner podcast) in conversation with Distinguished Professor Paul Kirschner of the Open Universiteit Netherlands. The conversation is a thorough examination of the use of feedback in the classroom. Paul and James cover levels of feedback questions, the timing of feedback, the differences between feedback, feed up and feed forward and the importance of corrective, directive and epistemic feedback. Original source here.


Should we be concerned with 3D printer emissions?

3D printing is a relatively new technology in schools. We know that 3D printers produce fumes and smells into the air during printing but how much do we know about the potential health risks associated with 3D printing?

3D printers release a variety of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Ultra Fine Particles (UFPs) into the air during the heating of the print filament. Two of the most common filament types are:

  1. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), a petroleum-based material.
  2. PLA (PolyLactic Acid) which is derived from corn starch.

Others include: TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane), an extremely flexible polyurethane based plastic, Carbon filament, Grass filament, Metal filament, Hemp filament and Beer filament.

Volatile Organic Compounds. “VOCs are a group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. Many common household materials and products, such as paints and cleaning products, give off VOCs. Common VOCs include acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, toluene and xylene.” Australia – state of the environment.

All filaments produce VOCs and UFPs. The amount and type is determined by the filament used and to a much lesser extent the type of printer used. ABS releases more toxic VOCs including styrene and formaldehyde, the first a suspected human carcinogen and the second a known one. Polylactic acid (PLA) is a corn-based plastic found in medical implants, drinking cups, and disposable diapers and emits methyl methacrylate, a mild skin irritant.

While PLA is considered a safer product than ABS, additives applied to PLA filaments to increase things like shine and electrical conductivity can change emissions significantly. It is also important to note that HEPA filters do not filter VOCs effectively or at all, only UFPs.

All filament types emit UFPs which are small enough to get into the lungs and blood stream and have been linked with respiratory and cardiovascular disease. A study by the Environmental, Science and Technology Journal showed that the highest UFP rates occurred with ABS filament and the lowest emissions with PLA.

At PBAS we use PLA filament and have 1 UP Box+ and 2 UP Mini printers which are in an enclosed space approximately 4m by 2.8m. This room has an air circulation vent and air conditioning system but no dedicated fume extraction system. All our printers are fully enclosed with HEPA filters that assist in reducing UFPs. Recent testing by the Built Environment Research Group at the Illinois Institute of Technology said the following about the UP Box+ enclosed filtering system:

  • Having an enclosed box reduced UFPs by 74% with no filter operating.
  • Having an enclosed box with the HEPA filter operating reduced UFPs by 91%.
  • Testing with the HEPA filter turned on also suggested some reduction in VOCs but was not conclusive.

While the longer term impacts of 3D printing in spaces like offices, schools and home environments are not fully known there are some things that can be taken from the current research:

  1. Print in a well ventilated space.
  2. Do not stay in the same space as the 3D printer for extended periods of time while it is printing.
  3. ABS filaments emit known carcinogenic chemicals.
  4. Use PLA filament.
  5. Use printers that are fully enclosed and include HEPA filters.

If you use 3D printers now, or are considering their use in the future then it is important to consider how you can reduce any potential health risks to yourself and your students.



Volatile Organic Compounds Ambient Air Quality 2016

New 3D printer test: Up Box+ Printer with HEPA filter

3-D printer emissions raise concerns and prompt controls

Emissions of Ultrafine Particles and Volatile Organic Compounds from Commercially Available Desktop Three-Dimensional Printers with Multiple Filaments

Health study reveals harmful “toxic” effects of 3D printing

How to ask better questions

“Most questions are safe, that is they surface what is already seen or understood, they lead to regurgitated ideas and opinions. In other words, most questions people ask really surface what is already known. Top performers however, they ask questions that go deep. They ask questions that move us from automatic, reactionary thinking to deep thinking, they ask questions that inspire creativity, fuel passion and lead to profound ideas. Most importantly they ask questions that spur people into action.” Mike Vaughan, 2015

The success of a good answer relies on the words we choose. For example, when confronted with a challenge consider two ways you might look at the problem, 1. What should we do? (narrowing possibilities) or 2. What could we do? (widening possibilities). Mike Vaughan, 2015

Do the majority of questions we ask in the classroom fall into the safe category? That is, questions we know the answer to, with a high chance that some or all students will also know the answer. It isn’t that we shouldn’t ask safe questions, they are important and provide us with an insight into the level of knowledge students have. However, if these are the only types of questions we ask are we doing a disservice to our students?

  • How will they learn to apply their knowledge to complex problems?
  • How will they use their knowledge to critically evaluate?
  • How will they use their knowledge to create?
  • How will they know it is ok to ask a question, which they do not know the answer to?

Smartphones out when school is in?

When there’s a discussion about smartphones in schools people generally fall into one of two groups. One, you think the benefits outweigh the negatives and you are happy for students to use phones at school and access them when required for learning, or two, you think they get in the way of learning and distract students constantly throughout the day.

Read how one school has banned their use and how the Speaker of the Upper House and former teacher Shelley Hancock is proposing a national ban in schools for smartphone devices.

“Since late 2016 Willoughby Girls has imposed restrictions on smartphone use. From the time students walk in the gate they are expected to switch off their phones and put them in their pockets, where they must be left until they walk out the gates at the end of classes.” Sydney Morning Herald, 17 March, 2018

To read the full article click on the link below.

Smartphones out when school is in