The Making Something out of Maths Project was an initiative of the Australian Government and a national category 1 funded project managed by the Office of the Chief Scientist, Australia.The aim of the project was to improve student engagement in maths and science courses at tertiary and secondary levels, through innovative partnerships between universities, schools and other organisations.
The Making Something out of Maths project was premised upon the need to provide opportunities for secondary students, in particular middle school girls, to actually see the value of studying mathematics and technology at undergraduate level. Australia currently lags behind other OECD countries in the number of females undertaking mathematics and science at high school levels. As a key element of entry to tertiary study in STEM fields, the study of mathematics at high school is one vital plank in ensuring a pipeline of future STEM graduates from tertiary institutions.
The project was based upon previous research which identified the following critical elements necessary for improved participation of females in STEM studies:
- The need for novel ways of enhancing the classroom experience of students whilst supporting teachers and bringing practitioners into the classroom
- The need to teach STEM as it is actually practised: hypothesis, experimentation, observation, interpretation and debate.
- The need for role models in STEM disciplines who engage and connect with future students.
The project created opportunities to implement this research. Each term of ten weeks, year 9 & 10 girls from local high schools attended RMIT for a STEM elective study. The girls worked in groups and were given design problems to solve (eg: mobile phone/cover, sunglasses etc). The students worked in the computer aided design (CAD) labs at RMIT, with staff assistance and examined several case studies based on design for manufacture. They learned CAD and other design software and designed their models under the guidance of university staff and students. The girls’ capacity to engage with emerging design software and engineering technologies was enhanced, as well as their capacity to solve new and complex problems using problem-solving skills and mathematical knowledge.
This was a hands-on activity over a school year and aimed to build interest in the application of mathematics in STEM disciplines. The emphasis was placed upon enjoyment, problem-solving, introduction to tertiary environments and equipment and shared solutions to produce the models. At the conclusion of each term, the girls made presentations to their peers back in the school setting of the problem, solution, learning and design models they had produced.