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National Science Week Resources

National Science Week: Explore STEM with children

The 2024 theme for National Science Week is Species Survival: More than just Sustainability, which invites us to reflect upon how to support different species to thrive, not just survive.

Below is a suite of ideas for how your service can embed this theme into your service, starting with our National Science Week-themed online workshop coming up on Tuesday 30 June. (You can also join our Facebook group “Early STEM Educators Network” to exchange ideas with other educators about National Science Week and STEM learning.)

In our upcoming online workshop “Empowering Children through Citizen Science” (30 July), explore the theme of this year’s National Science Week through the captivating lens of citizen science, in which children see themselves as powerful agents of change and make a positive impact on the world through their own STEM explorations. Educators attending this workshop will:

🔎 Learn to design simple, engaging citizen science projects with children.

🌱 Gain practical ideas for citizen science explorations, like weather tracking & waterway monitoring.

🧠 Learn to support children to collect data, document findings, & report to local environmental groups. (Plus a lot more!)

This online workshop will be held on Zoom on Tue 30 Jul 2024 at 3-5pm (AEST), 1-3pm (AWST), 2:30-4:30pm (ACST). Book your ticket here.

A great way to engage young children in this year’s theme is by finding out what animal species reside in your local area. You can even engage with an established citizen science project, which encourages the public to collect data about local species and add these to the research database. Here are a few examples:

iNaturalist Australia: Upload your photos or audio recordings of the species in your area and contribute to their databank by using their app or website. Your observations could even be be deemed ‘research quality’ and made available for researchers to use in future research projects. It’s also a fantastic way to identify a species is if you’re not sure as other citizen scientists can identify them for you!

FrogID: This is a scientific rescue mission that aims to identify frogs in different areas across Australia. You can contribute by uploading audio recordings of frog calls you hear via the app. You can also use the app to help you identify frogs in your area.

Koala Tracker: Koala Tracker is a national koala mapping project that collects data about where koalas have been spotted and if they are alive or injured. Explore the database with children to see if koalas have been sighted in your local area and spark conversations about why or why not this might be. Any data you contribute will support koala conservation efforts too.

Aussie Bird Count: This annual, national event held in October invites you to count all the birds you spot in one location over a 20-minute period. This could be in your setting’s outdoor space or you could take the children to another outdoor space to count the birds you see there. The app helps you identify and log the birds you see during your 20-minute period. You can also participate more than once, which allows you to engage multiple groups of children.

Moth tracker: Explore this Bogong Moth tracker by Zoos Victoria to track sightings of the endangered Bogong Moth and report your own. By understanding more about the decline in Bogong Moths, scientists hope to save this endangered species, which is also an important part of the life journey for Mountain Pygmy-possums.

Once you have a good understanding of the species in your area, you might like to follow the children’s interest to focus on one particular animal, insect, or habitat. You can then extend this interest by embarking on an STEM inquiry project. Here are some questions to kickstart your project that centre around engineering, design, and technologies: 

🔎 Where does this animal find its food and water? How could we help ensure there is enough food or water supplies where they live? These questions might lead to an exploration of sources of food, foods that can harm certain animals (like feeding bread to birds), sources of water, biodiversity (check out the ECA’s factsheet), ecosystems, town planning, environmental design, and landscaping.

🔎 What sorts of homes does this animal live in? Could we design an ideal home for this animal? These questions might lead to an exploration of different types of animal habitats, the engineering involved in animal home building, and some hands-on engineering and design & technology as children work to design and build suitable homes for animals. For inspiration, check out these 10 Amazing Architects of the Animal Kingdom.

🔎 You might ask the children to share their observations and knowledge about how humans build homes. Do human homes have an impact on the homes of other animals? What can we do to help animals thrive? This can lead to explorations and conversations about climate change, waste management, biodiversity, animal conservation and protection, and much more.

🔎 What do humans need to thrive in their environments? This can lead to explorations about the different ways and different places that humans live around the world and throughout history. Children could explore the engineering and design underpinning human habitats, human food sources, and the impact of biodiversity on human life.

For more inspiration, browse these projects by Little Scientists Houses: (these are services and classrooms who have been certified for their commitment to early STEM education

🍀 St Joseph’s Primary School (WA) undertook research into how to save gum leaves for koalas. The children shared hypotheses, experimented and tested, and then documented and discussed the results. This led to the creation of a story that captured much of their learning.  

🍀 The children at The Point Preschool (NSW) wanted to solve the threats to Great Barrier Reef coral, which involved designing and constructing inventions to save the reef. In the process, the children made a discovery of an “unknown object” in their sandpit and shared theories of what the object might be. In order to identify this object, the children engaged in extensive research, which included connecting with an expert.

🍀 The children at Monash Vale Early Learning Centre (VIC) explored methods to protect marine life. Working collaboratively, the children researched the impact of pollution on ocean life, developed hypotheses about how to protect the ocean, and experimented with robots to help the ocean.   

🍀 Makybe Rise Primary School’s (WA) 3-4 year old cohort spent a term designing safe and cosy nests for birds in the local area. It all started with discovering a nest, after which the children hypothesised about the type of nest it was and how to build a nest that would protect birds and their eggs. The children researched different types of nests and developed a set of criteria for making a successful nest. The children then experimented with creating nests from a range of different materials and checked them against their criteria. 

🍀 The children at Yirrkala Preschool (NT) studied habitats for humans and animals, including traditional Yolngu homes. Children explored what shapes and materials were best suited for different homes, engaged in research and trial and error exploration, and used their learning to build small homes for their toys and a large home for themselves. 

🍀 The children from Concordia Lutheran College Kindergarten (QLD) looked into how future civilisations might live, including on other planets. Children identified the must-haves for humans to live well, engaged in experimentation and testing, and then designed their own future cities and possible habitats for future generations. 

🍀 The Woods Early Education Centre and Preschool (QLD) children explored how to create a waste-free world. They researched and brainstormed a variety of possible solutions, including a clothes-swap to minimise textile waste. The children’s project learnings and solutions have now been embedded in the services operations! 

“The animals go by one by one

A hundred plants, then there were none

And all the while the buildings double…

This numbers game adds up to trouble

But if you count with utmost care

(and trust me that they are all there)

You’ll go from ten to nothing, then

The whole way back to ten again!”

Book summary: Uno arrives in a forest and marvels at the animals he encounters. But over time, Uno notices that his village is encroaching upon the forrest. As the book progresses, we follow the development of human habitats and technological advances, but we also notice the number of plants and animals decreasing. Fortunately, the book sees future generations address these issues and make changes so that all the living creatures in the forest can benefit — a welcome and empowering ending for young readers.

This book is a great prompt to engage children in discussions about the difference between sustaining species and supporting all species to thrive, focusing on the concepts of biodiversity and the role of ecosystems.

If you’re a fan of Graeme Base books, you will know that he often includes hidden elements within his pages, which provide another source of joy for children. This book is also rich with patterns and number elements that support children to extend their maths skills.

You can extend the STEM learning with these ideas:

🦁 Read the book with children and ask them to spot hidden animals and plants on different pages. They can even count and sort these hidden animals, for example by size order. In doing so, children will identify patterns involved in operations such as addition and multiplication.

🦁 Set out some blocks, cardboard, and other everyday materials that children can use to build environments like those depicted in the book.

🦁 Plant a seed in a small pot and have the children observe the changes over time, from seed to plant.

Develop your STEM skills with pedagogy-based STEM PD:

Facebook Group: Little Scientists Early STEM Educators Network
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