STEM program delivers sustainability and creativity

Year 7 students at Canterbury Girls' Secondary College recently participated in an innovative new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program on sustainable design.

Ava, Sanuki and Emily with their cork bottle stopper birdhouse
Left to right: Ava, Sanuki and Emily with their birdhouse made from cork bottle stoppers

The school's STEM team organised the special project to run at school from Friday November 30 through to Friday December 7. They gave students unique opportunity to think about the importance of sustainable design when it comes to creating new products, including the potential for recycling, re-using and reducing waste.

Students worked in groups to come up with their own ideas for creating products aimed at solving - or at least, minimising - an environmental problem.

The STEM program came from the College's STEM Strategic Plan. 'We wanted a focus to which students could relate, and felt that looking at sustainability had the potential for students to develop some real solutions to current issues,' Principal Dr Mary Cannon says.

The program began with an introductory presentation aimed at providing students with the necessary background information: product manufacture, the 'life cycle journey' of a computer, renewable versus non-renewable resources, and the notion of 'repurposing' a product as opposed to 'recycling'.

The students then got to work, brainstorming ideas, making lists of materials and sketching rudimentary designs of their products. One group used lemons to produce electricity.

Year 7 student Coco was in a group that created a shopping bag from old pencil cases.

'We came up with the idea because I was getting ready to throw out some of my old ones and I thought, why not use them instead?' Coco says.

Shopping bags made from old clothes
Shopping bags made from old clothes

There was a vertical garden made from aluminium cans and recycled timber, a sustainable birdhouse, a Christmas tree made from the pages of an old book, a desk made from egg cartons and Christmas decorations made using old light bulbs.   

Aini's group made a birdhouse using recycled cardboard, yoghurt cups, milk cartons, reusable binders, old tins and an old raincoat to make it waterproof. 'We came up with this idea by brainstorming what materials people throw out the most,' Aina explains.

'The overall feedback received from students, parents and the wider community was very positive', said program organiser and learning specialist Peter Barbadonis.

'I enjoyed coming up with creative ideas. It was very interesting to learn about our impact on the planet and ways we can prevent and reduce our waste,' Year 7 student Scarlet says.

The week-long program culminated in a STEM fair held in the school hall on December 10, giving students the opportunity to showcase their products and learning to the wider school community.  

Strong Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) knowledge, skills and capabilities are increasingly important for individuals, in terms of future job opportunities and day-to-day living. Learn more about STEM in schools at VicSTEM