Making STEM deadly

Picture of Tayla Macdonald

Tayla Macdonald

Before she went on a science and maths camp, 19-year-old Tayla Macdonald says, she didn’t have a huge interest in science. She wanted to be a journalist.

But the camp made science significant and meaningful to her, and to her family’s Aboriginal roots. Tailored for Indigenous students, the camp blended science with Aboriginal culture, involving fieldwork and activities at culturally significant sites.

‘The camp gave me the belief that a science degree could be possible and that perhaps it wouldn’t be as difficult as I thought it was. I felt like it opened up new possibilities and choices I hadn’t considered before,’ says Tayla.

Three years later and Tayla is studying medical science, hoping to specialise in paediatrics and work either in regional communities or in humanitarian aid.

Initiatives like this are important, because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects at university and in related professions is significantly lower than the Australian average.

Alarmingly, an international survey showed that, overall, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are around two-and-a-half years behind their peers in scientific and mathematical literacy, and this gap has remained the same over ten years.

The reasons for this are complex, but our research shows that tailored learning programs can make a real difference.

That’s why we’ve partnered with BHP Billiton Foundation to deliver a new education project for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students that aims to increase their participation and achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (also known as STEM).

The five-year project is expected to involve Aboriginal students from all states and territories, from primary school through to tertiary education. It will cater to the diversity of learners – from those in remote communities through to high-achieving students attending mainstream schools.

Our research shows that community engagement, learning on-country and long-term investment and collaboration are vital for improving Indigenous education outcomes in science and maths subjects.

We’ve designed the project incorporating these elements, along with hands-on, inquiry-based learning approaches. There’s an awards program to recognise and reward high-achieving students.

This tailored approach will provide students with the learning setting and support they need for their best chance to achieve.

We hope students who participate in the program will consider taking up a career in science, just like Tayla.

Read more about our education program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Kids raid caves in virtual classroom

Remember when going on a school excursion meant a trip to the bowling alley? Or, for a really special occasion, perhaps a visit to the local fun park?

Well, things have certainly changed since I was at school.

Today, we’re launching what could be Australia’s biggest (and arguably coolest) school excursion ever. In classrooms around the country, students will set out to explore the spectacular Jenolan caves located in the scenic Blue Mountains.

How will this be possible? They’ll be embarking on their journey in virtual reality. 


To create this digital experience, we teamed up with 3P Learning to combine their latest educational resource, IntoScience, with HD panoramic video and 3D models of the Jenolan Caves scanned using our (ahem, award winning), laser mapping technology, Zebedee.

Using their own avatars, students from years 6 to 9 will be able to delve into the natural wonder of the caves, all without leaving the classroom. The Jenolan caves are Australia’s largest and, with elaborate underground structures, offer a rich scientific environment full of learning opportunities.

“It’s exciting to see our cave models now brought to life as a virtual world that students can explore and perform their own scientific investigations in,” said Michael Bruenig from our Digital Productivity and Services Flagship.

Zebedee is the first technology capable of mapping caves with lasers while continuously moving, meaning the 3D models it creates are incredibly detailed and can be produced in only the time it takes to walk (or climb or crawl) through a cave.

The technology is already well-known for mapping other iconic landmarks such as the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance, Queensland’s Fort Lytton, and a little structure you might have heard of known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa  Oh yes, and there was a Boeing 727 too.

So, as much as I enjoyed my school field trips (complete with packed lunch and walkman), I can’t help but feel a teensy bit jealous of today’s students. First stop is the Jenolan Caves, but what’s next? The possibilities are endless. Check it out in this video:

This online 3D educational initiative, funded by the Australian Government, will be officially launched today by the Minister for Communication, Malcolm Turnbull.


Gamifying education to boost science skills

Bill Nye on mobile TV stand.

This is about as high-tech as education got in the 90s. Image: Tumblr

Education has come a long way since the ‘chalk and talk’ classes of the 90s. Back then the most exciting pieces of technology in our school classroom were an overhead projector, the videos we watched on a chunky TV that moved on wheels and the single Apple Mac computer we used for word processing.

Today’s classrooms seems a world away with laptops, tablets, smart boards, video conferencing, webinars, blogs, online videos, educational games and social media now par for the course.

One of the fields taking advantage of this shift in technology and learning is online educational games. A 2010 study of the use of 3D teaching and learning conducted by four Boulder Valley schools in Colorado found that 3D technology stimulated high student interest in, sustained focus on and solid retention of learnt content.

A real life 3D virtual world

‘Gamifying’ educational information is not a new concept. For years, educators have been incorporating game based elements into tasks and activities to teach, persuade and motivate. The reason it works so well is that it can encourage attitude and behaviour change which can be carried through to real-world applications.

Our clever computer scientists are looking to take this concept one step further. They’ve teamed up with 3PLearning, the creators of world leading e-learning tool Mathletics, to transform the real world into the digital world.

Together they are developing a range of new digital environments that replicate real life iconic locations for a new tool called IntoScience – an online science education game that allows secondary students to explore a range of unique 3D learning environments from their computer, iPad or classroom smart board.

The IntoScience game

IntoScience lets students explore the wide world from the comfort of their classroom.

Using their own customisable avatar students begin the journey in their own research lab. As they progress through quests, they explore the surrounding environment and test their science skills to complete inquiry based tasks with their robot helper Lawrence.

IntoScience could one day make online incursions a reality for students who may never get the chance to visit Australia’s most iconic sites. They can walk beneath the dense canopy of the Daintree rainforest, understand the forces holding up the Sydney Harbour Bridge or explore the life found amongst the elaborate underground structures of the Jenolan Caves without leaving the classroom.

Our Zebedee scanner in action at world heritage site, Fort Lytton.

Our Zebedee scanner in action at Fort Lytton.

But it doesn’t stop there. Our home grown laser scanner Zebedee is also being used to create the realistic online environments. The scanner swings back and forth on a spring to capture millions of detailed measurements, generating accurate 3D maps of pretty much anywhere, from caves and forests to buildings and even the leaning tower of Pisa.

By combining these 3D maps with 360 degree high-definition panoramic video (like the one on our Museum Robot’s head), we’re creating online spaces that will mirror real-life environments. This means students could transition from exploring one location in the virtual world to viewing a high definition panoramic video of the exact same place in the real world.


Teachers and students can register to participate in a free trial of IntoScience and the new environments.

This project is funded by the Australian Government.

Media: Sarah Klistorner T: +61 2 9372 4662 M: +61 477 716 031 E:

Science meets the circus

Meet Jasmine Leong - editor, dumpling queen and hula hooper extraordinaire. Image: Evyn Shuley.

Meet Jasmine Leong – editor, dumpling queen and hula hooper extraordinaire. Image: Evyn Shuley.

By day, Jasmine is the editor of our Double Helix magazines and e-newsletters. By night, she swaps her writing tools for a hula hoop and trapeze.

Jasmine is a devoted member of Warehouse Circus where she has taken up the art of hula hooping.

And she’s pretty darn good at it too. Last year, Jasmine became the only Aussie to reach the top sixteen of Hooping Idol – an online competition where people enter stylised hooping videos in the hope of becoming the world’s biggest hula hooping star.

But that’s not all. Jasmine also has her own drool-worthy food blog, where she shares her love of making and eating dumplings. She even worked on a special black sesame dumpling to celebrate the Transit of Venus.

So how did she come to work for us?

After studying genetics, history and philosophy of science at university, Jasmine was determined to fulfil her passion for science and education.

“When my uni days were coming to an end I wanted a change of scenery, so I left Sydney to work with CSIRO Education in the Northern Territory, delivering hands-on science to schools,” says Jasmine.

She later went on to gain postgraduate certificates in writing and marketing communications, and moved to Canberra to take on her current role with the Double Helix team.

“I love sharing the excitement of science with young minds.”

Check out Jasmine’s mad hula hooping skills below in our DIY experiment video.

For more information on careers at CSIRO, follow us on LinkedIn.

Thanks a million!

By Janene Brown

The Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools team saying thanks to all the scientists, mathematicians and teachers who volunteer for the program.

The Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools team saying thanks to all the scientists, mathematicians and teachers who volunteer for the program.

“So what’s it like to be a scientist or mathematician?” “What do you really do in your job?” Volunteers in the Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools program have been answering these questions since 2007 through over 3200 partnerships with scientists and teachers across the nation.

During National Volunteer Week, the team at Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools want to say “Thanks a Million”.

Thanks to the scientists and mathematicians, for volunteering your knowledge and passion for your chosen field. Thanks to the teachers, for welcoming them into your classroom. Together you are making a substantial positive impact on thousands of students.

All our partnerships are unique. That’s the beauty of the program’s flexibility.

Some of our partnerships have annual visits to assist in excursions while others visit more frequently to work on a particular project. Across all partnerships, science and mathematics are made more accessible for students, transforming textbook learning into reality. Our scientists and mathematicians show the human side of their work, helping dispel the stereotypes which spring to mind when we say ‘scientist’ or ‘mathematician’.

This sentiment is best summarised by a NSW parent, “It’s fantastic that individuals are willing to offer their time to help facilitate the learning of our children. Please pass on a big thank you for being an inspiration for my son.”

The value of a partnership: Paola Chivers from University of Notre Dame is partnered with Jo Ellard of Manea Senior College in Bunbury, WA. Together they have developed the school’s unique Health and Medical Specialist Program.

The value of a partnership: Paola Chivers from University of Notre Dame is partnered with Jo Ellard of Manea Senior College in Bunbury, WA. Together they have developed the school’s unique Health and Medical Specialist Program.

Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools is an Australian Government initiative funded by Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and CSIRO.


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