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.

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.” 


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.

STEM Project – Make your own speakers

Exploring sound in science with your students?

  • How does sound travel?
  • How do different materials absorb sound?
  • How can we amplify sound?

After teaching students about sound and how it works set students the challenge of amplifying your phone. Have students work in groups with each group presenting their ‘speaker’ to the class using your phone as the audio source.

  • What materials worked best?
  • What shapes worked best?
  • What size works best?
  • What other things need to be considered to improve amplification?


Click here to access a lesson and resources on sound vibrations.

What is an authentic STEM project? Would creating a phone speaker satisfy the following criteria?

Who is Rube Goldberg?

Rube Goldberg was born in 1883. In 1904 he graduated Berkley College as an engineer which eventually gave way to him becoming a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He continued as an editorial cartoonist for the New York Sun and his fame came from a fictional character he created, Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. Through this character he would illustrate complex inventions later to become known as Rube Goldberg machines.

A “Rube Goldberg Machine” is an extremely complicated device that executes a very simple task in a complex, indirect way.


Rube Goldberg in your classroom

How could you use the concept of a Rube Goldberg machine to create a STEM project if a STEM project is defined as the following?

Diagram provided by STEM 500 Primary Educators 

Examples of Rube Goldberg Machines

Click here for an example STEM lesson building a Rube Goldberg machine (NSW Education Standards Authority).

Like to see more Rube Goldberg machines? Just click here!

Using a laser cutter to create moving models

I wonder if these models could inspire our students to design, engineer and create their own moving models. The only materials needed are rubber bands and wood (and a laser cutter).

The following models were created by Ugears a company formed in 2014 in the Ukraine. The company has an online presence in Australia – to find out more click here. Amazingly I found out about these these models through a local shop in the main street of Moonta just recently.