Has this educator discovered the secret to getting girls excited about STEM?


The Microsoft Innovation Educator (MIE) Expert program connects high-potential teachers across Australia – and from around the world – to share their vision and expertise in applying technology to the classroom. In this MIE Expert profile, we talk to Tobias Hogg of Kardinia International College about encouraging female students to pursue their interests in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) through a host of less-than-conventional ways.

Tell us a bit about your role, and where technology fits into your approach to teaching.

I’m a teacher and the ICT Project Manager at Kardinia International College. I joined the school straight out of university and took on the ICT role in my third year there. The role involves me building out our ICT capacity in the classroom, as well as rolling out our 1:1 device program for all age levels. I’ve also been heavily invested in helping our staff make better use of OneNote: we use the Office 365 suite school-wide, and OneNote has been a huge boon to how we run our lessons and work with our students.

I understand you weren’t so keen on OneNote at the start. What changed?

That’s right – at university, I was an Evernote user like most students, so I didn’t really want to switch over to a new and unfamiliar system. In fact, my main concern was whether I’d be able to use it with Years 3-4, the age group that I was teaching at the time. However, when I started to use it more in the classroom, the kids took to it so naturally that our use of it kept growing and growing.

One of the most impressive things about OneNote was how it helped our students better express themselves. I had some students with short working-memories in my class, and they discovered huge benefits from being able to record, dictate, or even capture video to express their thoughts to write down later. They no longer felt like they were falling behind or losing their ideas because they couldn’t keep up on pen and paper. For me personally, being able to work from home and connect with my kids whenever they need assistance has transformed the way I teach and build rapport in the classroom. Now I’m an absolute lover of OneNote and not alone, either: most of the teachers at Kardinia now use it as the go-to platform to share and store all our resources with our students.

 

How has your passion for technology expressed itself in your work?

My focus in the past one or two years has been encouraging girls to think more seriously about STEM. One of the working groups that I was part of, we discovered that very few of our female students were taking up STEM subjects or pursuing them into later years – even less so after graduating. We visited several other schools, looked at research papers, and found that the most critical time to engage our girls on STEM was at the age of 10 or 11 – when most of them start to form a sense of what’s interesting versus what’s socially acceptable.

We came up with an event for our Year 3/4 girls called “Cupcakes, Coding, Meringues, and Making”. The event combined teatime events for girls, with activities like coding robots, flying drones, and concocting rainbows out of dry ice. We ended the day with a team-based project – building a bridge that could support the weight of a car driving on it – and brought in several female guest speakers, including some of our older students and alumni involved in STEM classes or careers, to share how and why they’d pursued a path in STEM. It was a huge success – we had 25 slots, which were filled in about 4 minutes of opening registration – and we’re planning to replicate the event next year with more students, as well as inviting their mothers to join in. The feedback was overwhelming, with one mother commenting, ‘Wow!  What an amazing day.  We enjoyed it so much.  …  I wish I had been able to participate in a similar day with my grade 5 daughter also, and love the idea of girls continuing to be encouraged with STEM subjects. Thanks so much for the opportunity.'

Was it difficult to get a less-than-conventional event like this off the ground?

Technology is one of four cornerstones for our school, so we have great support for innovation. I think that in this field, anything you do has to be unconventional. If you’re not thinking a bit creatively and pushing the limits a little, we won’t end up moving things forward and our young women will continue to see STEM as a “boys-only” path. We’ve got to get out of our comfort zone if we want our girls to discover the creative joy of working in STEM.

How do your female students generally respond to your efforts to promote STEM?

They love it! Apart from the cupcake event, we also put together a team for “The Next Tech Girl Superhero”, this was initiated by our principal who asked for expressions of interest to lead a team. It wasn’t an especially formal process – I simply put a call out for girls interested in making an app, and we formed a lunchtime group of seven girls that ran for 12 weeks or so.

The app that we built was an educational game called “Equality Hero”, which gets you to answer questions about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for gender equality. Apart from the app itself, each team had to also develop business plans, marketing strategies, budgets…the whole works to make it a viable product. The girls worked after school, on weekends, round the clock sometimes – they were that passionate about the work. It took a lot of time – and a lot of sessions on OneNote! We were pleased that on our first attempt we made it as State Finalists.

It wasn’t just the girls trying something new: I had no idea how to create an app when I started. We all learnt together and shared whatever we came across to help the project along, and eventually ended up with something we could call our own. I think we will all do an even better job next year!

Where do you get all these ideas for STEM teaching from?

A lot of it is just talking to other teachers and seeing what everyone else is doing. The MIE community has played a huge role in making that happen: since I’ve joined, I’ve been blown away by how creatively other teachers are using apps like Forms and Sway with their students. Hearing these ideas and adapting them to Kardinia’s classrooms makes a huge difference, as has being made privy to what’s coming down the pipeline from Microsoft for educators. New apps like 3D Paint have huge potential for creative learning – it’s just a question of adapting them to your students and their learning levels.

My next goal is to link last year’s big initiatives into the broader curriculum, including setting up a Maker Space to support these and other teachers’ ideas. At the end of the day, STEM’s real value comes from how it encourages innovation and creativity, and ideas don’t grow in a vacuum. Being part of the MIE Expert Program has really expanded my horizons, and I’d encourage any teacher who’s already using Microsoft products to innovate to apply.

 

 

Connect with Tobias Hogg on Twitter.
For more information on Kardinia International College, visit www.kardinia.vic.edu.au.

 

 

 

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