STEM in blast-off mode

Issue: Volume 98, Number 19

Posted: 8 November 2019
Reference #: 1HA26G

With skill shortages in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths, Engineering New Zealand has developed a fun programme to get young Kiwis excited about STEM careers.

The Wonder Project blasted off this year with the Rocket Challenge in Term 2, involving 13,500 students from 184 schools. Students design, build, and launch their own water rockets, in a programme that aligns with the New Zealand curriculum.

The 2019 challenge was won by St Anne’s Catholic School, Auckland. Year 5–6 teacher of Arohanui Tuarua, Cecilia Wong, says the Wonder Project was a fantastic hands-on opportunity for the students to experience STEM education. 

“As well as learning science and engineering knowledge, skills like collaboration and resilience were built on. Having the ambassadors on board opened the children’s eyes to see what engineering is like in real life,” she says.

Professional support for schools

Each school is supported by industry professionals, who talk to students and mentor them through Wonder Project challenges. Isaac Chan is a mechanical engineer with Beca (engineering consultants) and was a mentor to St Anne’s as the Year 5–6 students received their rocket kits and began to experiment with making their plastic drink bottle rockets go faster and further. The rocket kits include a rocket launcher and safety gear. 

“A drink bottle is attached to the rocket launcher and we work out what makes it fly. We use water and air and work out the best proportions; then we test which angle will get the furthest distance. We get them outside and they launch the rockets and each week make improvements – they try different fins, nose cone shapes,” says Isaac.

“They love being hands-on. It’s so good, when you explain a concept, to see the kids go outside and shoot their rockets. Working in small groups, they compare and compete. They made an awesome video talking about what they had learnt,” he says.

The Wonder Project aims to get more young Kiwis excited about taking up careers in STEM fields, says Engineering New Zealand Chief Executive, Susan Freeman-Greene.

“In New Zealand, there’s a huge skills shortfall in STEM – we simply don’t have enough young people pursuing careers in these fields. The Wonder Project aims to change that by taking young Kiwis on a creative, dynamic and fun STEM journey.

“Engineers make up just over one per cent of New Zealand’s population. In 2014, five per cent of New Zealand graduates had studied engineering, compared with the OECD average of 12 per cent and we’re lagging well behind. 

“The Wonder Project is here to change these figures by getting more young Kiwis excited about – and taking up – a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths,” Susan says.

Rocket Challenge teachers sought

Engineering New Zealand is seeking teachers to sign up for the Rocket Challenge in term 2, 2020.

They will receive:  

  • access to online learning modules aligned to The New Zealand Curriculum
  • a free rocket kit, which includes a rocket launcher and safety gear
  • the support of a STEM professional who will become their Wonder Project ambassador and help them teach STEM concepts for an hour each week.

The Wonder Project(external link) includes three programmes that can knit into a school’s curriculum: a Rocket Challenge for Years 5–8, a Community Challenge for Years 7–10 and STEM Careers for Years 11–13. 

Impacts of the Rocket Challenge

Engineering New Zealand commissioned a report to measure the impact of the 2019 Rocket Challenge. Teachers, students and industry mentors were surveyed before and after the challenge.

Findings included:

  • 91% of teachers said their confidence in teaching STEM had increased.
  • 83% of teachers said they would recommend the challenge to other teachers. 
  • 90% of teachers said they would take part again.
  • 90% of students said it offered the right level of challenge.
  • 47% of students said they were completely engaged and 38% said they were fairly engaged.
  • 86% of students said their perception of STEM subjects changed positively.
  • Students who would think about engineering as a career increased from 4% to 8%.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:01 am, 8 November 2019

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