Art4Agriculture’s annual National Ag Day Careers Competition is taking a LEGO theme this year and here we catch up with LEGO’s Australian Teacher of the Year Jess Schofield to find out how LEGO and project based learning (PBL) are promoting STEM careers.
QUT Bachelor of Education (Secondary) graduate Jessica Schofield was awarded LEGO Education’s Australian Teacher of the Year 2018. Photo source
Jess teaches maths, robotics and technology at Injune State School in central Queensland. With only 80 students the school is miniscule by international standards but this does not deter Jess from taking her students on an annual LEGO-inspired robotic journey. For her efforts in working with students in 2017s Robot Olympics Jess was recently named as the LEGO Australian Teacher of the Year and travelled to Boston USA to talk about her work as a STEM teacher.
Jess attended the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) at a time when STEM was the buzz word and, while studying, worked for three and a half years training local teachers in the Brisbane area to use robotics and technology in the classroom. Her first permanent job was at Injune, where she has now been for three years, and her experience helped convince parents that LEGO was for more than just the playroom. “Each year there is a global robotics competition with a regional tournament held in Brisbane. QUT contacted me and said they were willing to offer sponsorship if I would like to bring a team down, and when I put that to the parents they were pretty keen to give it a go,” she says.
“The kids have little LEGO robotics challenges where they have to program their robots and they also have to do a research project and present that,” Jess says of the robotics competition, which has many similarities to The Archibull Prize with both being a prime example of PBL in schools. “From a teachers point of view PBL is a little bit terrifying,” Jess says. “In ordinary teaching you have a set assessment piece and a set curriculum to teach to, you know exactly where your kids are starting and where you want them to end up at. PBL is daunting because you start a ten week unit with some vague idea of what you want the kids to produce at the end but exactly what you cover in that ten weeks is totally up to the kids.”
She also sees PBL as a way to engage students who are not traditionally academically inclined. “PBL interlinks subjects together without the kids realising,” she says. “For instance if their robot is going too fast they need to work out how to half the speed. They might be studying ratios or fractions in class and struggling to put it on pen and paper and yet they do the same application without realising because they can see the immediate results or the immediate impact of those calculations.”
Injune lies in an agricultural area and in their first year of the robotics competition the students drew from their backgrounds.
“The kids came up with this really crazy idea of training horses to be like guide-dogs so people with vision impairment or age could still go out mustering,” Jess says, but although many of the students can envisage themselves working on the family property at the conclusion of school Jess says they would not think of this as a career. “I am looking forward to engaging the students in the (Art4Agriculture) careers competition to help them explore beyond what they currently know or are involved in.”
Exploring options and pathways is the aim of the Art4Agriculture 2018 National Ag Day Careers Competition and by combining LEGO and PBL it is hoped a new generation will consider agriculture as not just a job but as a fulfilling and rewarding career.
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