Cessnock schools are leading a national conversation about the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the classroom, with speakers from companies including Google and Adobe attending a locally-facilitated conference that was a year in the making.
More than 600 educators and industry leaders attended the Future Focused Learning STEM Workforce Conference at Rydges Newcastle on Thursday and Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley on Friday.
Regional Development Australia Hunter and the Cessnock Community of Great Public Schools – which includes Cessnock High, Mount View High and 13 primary schools – spent a year organising the event, which allows teachers to learn about STEM’s role in business and what jobs will be created in the future, as well as how to develop school programs in partnership with industry.
Deputy principal of STEM at Cessnock High School Learning Community – which includes Cessnock High and five primary schools – Dr Scott Sleap said the Hunter was “punching well above its weight to underpin the success of students into the future” and the rest of the country was taking notice.
“They want to learn how to do it and they want to learn from us how to do it,” Dr Sleap said.
“Students require STEM-based skill sets and to know how to work collaboratively, problem solve, think creatively, have cognitive flexibility and be able to negotiate.
“Lots of schools take a siloed approach but our success has been down to working co-operatively across primary and high schools and bringing industry in, to create a pipeline of future employees with these skills. Our teachers have also been trained for this future focused learning.”
Dr Sleap said Cessnock schools collectively prioritised STEM a year ago to combat the city’s high youth unemployment rate.
“It’s been quite a big undertaking to put the resources in and take a leap of faith, but we’re lucky we have principals who are willing to be innovative,” he said.
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Most of the CCGPS schools held pupil-free days on Friday so their teachers could attend the conference at Lovedale, where Sydney maths teacher Eddie Woo (Australia’s 2018 Local Hero of the Year) and Google Australia’s engineering community and outreach manager Sally-Ann Williams were among the guest speakers.
Mr Woo, who was recently named in the top 10 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, is undoubtedly Australia’s most famous maths teacher.
His Youtube channel, Wootube (which he started so he could film his classes for a seriously ill student) has more than 280,000 subscribers.
Mr Woo said he was impressed by the work the Cessnock schools have done, saying distance from metropolitan areas doesn’t need to be a barrier.
“I’ve found some of the most innovative schools are in regional areas,” he said.
The conference also included an expo featuring a range of leading STEM educational suppliers, such as Kookaburra Educational Resources, Modern Teaching Aids, Obelisk Systems, Re-Engineering Australia and the University of Newcastle SMART program.
Students from local primary and high schools, including the Cessnock Academy of STEM Excellence, Mount View High, Cessnock West, Cessnock East and Abermain Public Schools, demonstrated their schools’ STEM projects at the expo, with robotics and green screen technology among the displays.
Cessnock High School Year 12 student Kyle Gosper said it was great to be able to learn about real-world technology while still at school.
“It’s getting us ready for the next generation of jobs,” he said.
“It gives us the experience with the technology, for when we move into the workplace.”
The conference will conclude with a gala dinner on Friday evening, featuring celebrity STEM geek Dr Adam Spencer as the guest speaker.