Lift off on STEM skills for SVA Connection students

Launching science experiments into space is just one of the exciting possibilities the SVA Bright Spots Schools Connection is opening up for primary school students from disadvantaged communities. SVA Project Officer, Education, Susannah Schoeffel explains.

I’ve been a part of the SVA Bright Spots Schools Connection (The Connection) for 18 months now – and one of the recurring questions I get asked by those who haven’t heard of the initiative is: what is the value of a network of high-performing school leaders working in low socio-economic areas?

But today – with the news of 24 primary school kids being among the first in Australia (not just the first students, but the first Australians, student, scientist or otherwise) to code science experiments that will be launched on a rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) this week and completed by ISS astronauts – my regular answer to that question has a new space-age flavour. This amazing collaboration is the result of a relationship fostered by the Connection and is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when committed and passionate school leaders are empowered by the resources a network like the Connection can provide.

The way the Connection works with schools in low socio-economic communities to improve educational outcomes for their students is pretty hands on. The team of Sue Cridge, myself and Simon Malcolm have an extensive screening process to identify successful education practice in low socio-economic areas. We then support that school’s leadership team one-on-one on concrete projects to build their capacity to improve their students’ educational outcomes.

‘But being part of the Connection is much more than tailored one-on-one project support. We know there is a goldmine of knowledge and experience right here in this group of educators, so we actively foster relationships amongst the schools themselves, but also with those outside the network and at the cutting-edge of educational practice and thinking to provide these educators with the resources they need to flourish.’

But what’s this got to do with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds sending experiments off to the ISS?

One of the formal mechanisms we use to convene the network are the quarterly Thought Leadership Gatherings (TLG) when the close to 50 schools get together to be exposed to innovative thinking from academia, evidence-based practitioner experience and, importantly, from each other. And at the first TLG for 2017 held in March, we welcomed 15 new schools in to the network as part of our new STEM Learning Hub, delivered in partnership with Samsung Electronics Australia.

As part of that welcome and focus on STEM, we invited Solange Cunin to address the cohort. A young STEM professional, Solange developed the Cuberider program that’s giving Australian kids the coding skills and STEM-understanding that allows them to craft these experiments, and then the opportunity to send them to the ISS.

Solange spoke about her own unlikely journey as a young woman from a remote location with a passion for space, and the school experience and committed educators who enabled her to get to university to study aeronautical engineering. Since graduating, she has turned around to foster that passion and interest for science and technology in other students.

Several of the school leaders in the audience at that TLG saw the opportunity presented by Solange and the Cuberider program and organised for their students to participate. Now five months later, the rocket with all the students’ experiments was launched at 2.30am on a Tuesday morning during National Science Week, with those 24 kids engaged in their learning, skilled-up and on track to contribute to the technological future of this nation – all because of these leaders’ exposure to cutting-edge practice like that of Solange and Cuberider.

One of the amazing parts of my job is that I get to hear stories like this every day. Sure, they don’t always involve rockets and the ISS, but they are always about how when talented school leaders are given the right support, kids from disadvantaged backgrounds can have improved educational outcomes and a quality education experience, regardless of their postcode. And it’s an absolute privilege to be a part of that.


Follow along with the Cuberider launch using #LiftOff2017 – and stay tuned for further STEM education developments as the Connection heads to Canberra for the third TLG of 2018, centring on ‘Innovation in STEM’.