STEM programs recognised in worldwide competition

Blackfriars’ cutting-edge STEM programs have gained global attention, thanks to a Prospect Council initiative.

STEM Co-ordinator Matthew Wallace and a group of students last week spoke with US-based representatives of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) about the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics credentials.

The meeting was co-ordinated by Prospect Council, which is one of seven finalists in the ICF’s Intelligent Communities of the Year, joining the likes of Binh Duong Smart City, Vietnam, and New Taipei City, Taiwan.

“This isn’t some local tidy town award either,” the council said.

STEM Co-ordinator Matthew Wallace during the Zoom meeting.

“This a worldwide competition that recognises the unique, eclectic and, of course, intelligent community that makes Prospect so incredible.”

The council’s nomination was based on several criteria, including the STEM programs on offer at Blackfriars.

During the Zoom meeting with ICF Co-founder John G. Jung and Director of Operations Matthew Owen, Mr Wallace shared information about those programs, including the Ax Academy and the co-curricular Robotics Club.

“We’re committed to getting students to where they desire and exposing them to a range of fields, rather than just the traditional Chemistry, Biology, Physics,” Mr Wallace told the meeting.

“As that has evolved, the school has started an Ax program, Academic Extension, designed for students who might be hands-on or academically interested in engineering or those technical trades later on after school. It’s a bit of a point of difference.

“Some of the students have really loved learning in a different mode.”

Up to 200 Blackfriars students were involved in the Ax program.

Year 10 student Michael Ward, who was also a member of the school’s Robotics Club, told the meeting the students found the additional learning “really valuable”.

“We really enjoy being able to use the technology, hands-on, to solve problems,” he said.

“We really enjoy Robotics Club. My team got to compete in the Battle Bots in the Lego competition, and we placed first in that. That was a lot of fun and it really inspired a love for robotics.”

Micheal Ward, Hemanga Hamal and Dan Shyjo were also part of the Zoom conversation with the ICF.

Hemanga Hamal (Year 11) said the STEM program was “a good eye-opener for what future pathways and future technologies will be like”.

“It helps us build the ability to identify a problem and how we can fix that issue,” he told the meeting.

“And the way the school has done it has made it really enjoyable for lots of students and teachers because we are able to be hands-on – less theory and more exploration – which is a skill that we’ll all need through our lives.

“Technology is advancing, so keeping up with that and teaching younger kids, or furthering your pursuit of technology through school, has helped us prepare for the future and that’s really quite a valuable skill that I don’t think other schools give.”

Mr Wallace also took the opportunity to spruik the school’s success in securing a grant from the Andy Thomas Space Foundation – one of only nine South Australian schools to win the funding.

“That has allowed me some time to develop a unit of work around satellite technology and communication technology,” he told the meeting.

“So, the students will design a micro-satellite and simulate sending data from one location to another.

“It (the grant) has allowed me to really develop the possibilities. Now, we can do things that the students can say, ‘hey, I can have a career in the space industry, we can have a career in robotics’. We can be part of preparing kids for the cutting-edge future and that’s exciting.”

See the ICF Top 7 finalist video here.

The winning ICF Intelligent Community of the Year will be announced in coming weeks.


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