Holiday learning helps kids to stay on top of STEM school subjects
This week, an Australian start-up company is launching a free new game to help children aged five to nine to stay on top of their school studies over holiday periods and as a homework helper during term time. STEM Explorer™ is the only single app to teach science, maths and related subjects that is tied to the Australian curriculum.
Jobs increasingly require high levels of proficiency in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) yet, in Australia, secondary school student performance in science and maths has stalled or declined (1). Educators hope that by focussing on STEM learning in the early years by making it interesting and relevant will help to reverse the current trend and boost participation throughout a student’s schooling (2).
The Sydney-based team behind STEM Explorer™ partnered with an award-winning local educational games company called 2and2 to create a product that rewards effort and persistence and tailors the questions to each child. It also has eight different games designed to increase engagement.
STEM Explorer™ is powered by the Cogniss platform, a technology developed exclusively by 2and2. “We created a machine learning algorithm called Cognission Engine™ to optimise and deliver personalised content and feedback,” says 2and2 CEO Leon Young. “Partnering with the STEM Explorer™ team allows us to demonstrate its real world value.”
STEM Explorer’s chief evangelist Marko Njavro says they wanted to create a game that was fun and would help children on their return to school. “We know teachers spend an average of three weeks revising content in term one of a new school year and students report that maths and science subjects are the most difficult to catch up on,” says Marko. “We wanted to have an app that can help limit learning loss as well as give students a head start.”
Most games use a ‘drill and kill’ approach to deliver blocks of questions aligned to a specific category, such as multiplication, but STEM Explorer™ mixes up the questions in an approach designed to boost learning. The technique is called interleaving and scientific studies have shown it can have long-lasting effects particularly for subjects like maths (3).
Young explains that interleaving is just one component of the Cogniss platform and that the technology is based on neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to adapt and change in response to new experiences. Other core features of the smart engine include its ability to ‘know’ when to serve more challenging questions based on the user providing faster and more accurate answers. “Tailoring the timing and types of questions to suit individual learners, and ensuring any feedback they get has a sound psychological basis all help to deepen understanding, foster engagement and maximise long-term knowledge retention,” says Young.
Game questions currently focus on the year 2 – year 3 curriculums and, during the school year, playing will aid with preparation for stage 1 NAPLAN. “Our goal now is to further validate the benefits of playing STEM Explorer™ as well as look to how we best scale the software to encompass all primary school stages,” adds Marko.
The team also has a bold ambition: to have 20,000 Australian students playing STEM Explorer™ by Christmas 2017.
Prior to the release of STEM Explorer™, the team had launched a STEM education game called apptEDUde that validated market need. In November 2016, ApptEDUde exited PwC’s 21st Century Minds (21CM) accelerator program designed to unearth, grow and scale Australia’s best STEM education initiatives. STEM Explorer’s superiority comes from its game mechanics and personalised learning components. It also has a dashboard for teachers to aid lesson planning and an analytics display for parents. The dashboard will be available from early January and app users will receive in-game notification of its release.
Find out more about the STEM Explorer™ team here: http://stemexplorer.com.au/about
To arrange an interview with Marko, please call: 0408 626 347
Find out more about 2and2 here:
To arrange an interview with Leon Young, managing director or 2and 2, please call: 02 9145 5303
FACTS & FIGURES
Over the next five years, employment is predicted to increase in professional, scientific and technical services by 14 per cent and in health care by almost 20 per cent. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated that some STEM-related jobs, such as ICT professionals and engineers, have grown at about 1.5 times the rate of other jobs in recent years.
Australian Government, Industry Employment Projections 2015 Report; ABS Perspectives on Education and Training: Australian qualifications in STEM, 2010-11, Cat. 4250.0.55.005
International research shows that building STEM capacity across the population is critical in helping to support innovation and productivity regardless of occupation or industry. Consistent with this research, industry surveys show that STEM literacy
is increasingly becoming part of the core capabilities that Australian employers need. PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated that changing 1 per cent of Australia’s workforce into STEM-related roles would add $57.4 billion to GDP.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), A Smart Move: future-proofing Australia’s workforce by growing skills in STEM (2015).
A common finding across numerous studies is that on average, students score lower on standardised tests at the end of the summer than they do at the beginning (holiday learning loss). This phenomenon is true for Australia and requires further investigation.
Growth in literacy and numeracy achievement: evidence and explanations of a summer slowdown in low socio-economic schools. Vale, C., Weaven, M., Davies, A. et al. Aust. Educ. Res. (2013) 40: 1. doi:10.1007/s13384-012-0065-9
1. Office of the Chief Scientist 2014, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future. Australian Government, Canberra.
2. National STEM School Education Strategy, 2016 – 2026. Published Dec 2015.