Naomi Harris works four days a week at nearby Olympic Dam, but on Fridays, she teaches digital design, technology and science at St. Barbara’s Parish School. Established in 2000, St. Barbara’s has 120 students ranging from Foundation to Year 9. Harris teaches a class of 16 students across Years 7, 8 and 9.
While St. Barbara’s may be remote, it’s been able to harness technology to provide students with the same rich digital and STEM learning experiences as metropolitan schools. This year the school has been one of five in the Catholic Education South Australia (CESA) network that has encouraged students to participate in CESA’s STEM Weather Station Challenge 2019.
Jarrod Carter is a Learning Technologies Consultant at CESA who developed and oversees the Weather Station program. CESA has rolled out Office 365 to all 101 schools in the network, and for this project, has made extensive use of the Teams communication and collaboration tool.
Already widely used in CESA schools to support teacher professional development, Teams has also started to be used for student activities and for some schools. It is performing the role of a learning management system where assignments can be shared and feedback delivered.
It’s been well received, says Carter. “The really good thing about Teams is that there wasn’t that steep learning curve, and there is the opportunity to get notifications through the Office 365 log on.” Teams is also driving cultural change, encouraging greater use of OneDrive and SharePoint which ensures that more content is available to be shared widely rather than squirreled away on individual devices.
With Teams already well-used within CESA schools, it was a natural foundation for the STEM learning project that St. Barbara’s undertook.
CESA’s STEM Weather Station Challenge 2019 invited five schools—two metropolitan, two regional and one remote—to have students design, code, develop and test a weather station. Data collected by the station at the school will be collected and analyzed, and the local community surveyed about their local climate.
As Carter explains, “Even though we are a small state we are a big state—a lot of our schools are a long way from Adelaide.” The Weather Station project was designed to show how learning information could be delivered to schools in a sustainable way, and also promote knowledge sharing among teachers.
Teams provided the foundations, hosting ‘how-to’ videos and learning content that students and teachers could access to learn how to code the Arduino controllers that would collect weather data, how to design protective housings for the controllers and then how to 3D print the weather station.
Students then worked together on the project, uploading content to Teams. Carter arranged for a Bureau of Meteorology technician to participate in the project and use Teams to critique and comment on the students’ work.
Importantly, Teams allows “teachers to see what other teachers are doing,” says Carter. “They might be the only digital technology teacher at their school, so they are not getting visibility of other teachers. Teams lets them see how other teachers approach a problem.”
That was certainly the case for Naomi Harris. While she has coding experience, she had never used a 3D printer before.
Besides extending her own skills, the project deeply engaged students, demonstrating to the entire class the real-world application of technology. “It has shown them coding, wiring circuits, 3D printing and starting to use Excel to look at data,” says Harris.
“With Teams we are able to collaborate with other schools—most of them bigger than ours—and connect with Jarrod to help us along.
“The kids enjoy the hands-on stuff and being creative—to touch the wires and make sure they are in the right place. We even got feedback through Teams—Jarrod took a look at them and showed one of the BOM technicians responding to their designs which was posted on Teams. They really enjoyed that—talking through their designs and giving feedback.
“This has given us access to expertise that we wouldn’t otherwise have had being so remote. If I were to do a project on my own—I would have been on my own. I have coding background, but 3D printing was new to me,” she adds.
Besides delivering learning resources to staff and students, Teams also builds the sorts of communications and collaboration skills that are prized in modern workplaces. Carter says that the project has also encouraged students to work together, share their skills and learn how to pivot their thinking—so people coding the Arduino devices also consider how that might impact the design of the weather station or how the data collected could be analyzed.
While the project has been rolled out to just five schools so far, Carter has used CESA’s Learning and Technologies blog to share the Weather Station project’s progress with other schools, uploading video content to Teams where it can be shared even more widely.
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