Students at Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar at Nintendo Australia Labo School Workshop. Source: Thrive PR

The Department of Education and Training regards high quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education as ‘critically important’ for Australia’s future productivity. The Youth in STEM Report finds that 80% of 12-25 year olds believe that science has a positive impact on the world.  A 2018 report punished by the Australian Council for Educational Research found that the number of High School students enrolled in STEM units has been declining over the past 15 years. These statistics highlight the gap between Australia’s estimation of STEM and Australian’s practical knowledge of STEM. Nintendo Australia has recently launched a school based program to help bridge this gap.

Nintendo Australia has this to say about the program: In an Australian-first, Nintendo Australia have launched a new program which will take over school classrooms nationwide, combining the unique play of Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Labo with the basic principles of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM). This program will be rolled out to schools across Australia. It will involve Nintendo Australia running workshops and providing Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Labo systems to participating classrooms, to help them reinforce skills such as communication, creativity and critical thinking.

To this end, Nintendo Australia will partner with Australian schools to integrate Nintendo Labo into their curriculum. Nintendo Labo are DIY creative kits which transform analogue play into digital play with the help of a Nintendo Switch. It takes the crepe paper, pipe cleaner and toilet roll creations of craft time and transforms them into virtual reality.

The first school to host a workshop as part of this program was Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar in Melbourne. This workshop was facilitated Nintendo Australia and was attended by Girl Geek Academy which is a Profit-For-Purpose company that aims to teach one million women STEM skill by 2025. Gamers Classified spoke with Michelle Dennis, Head of Digital Learning and Innovation at Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar, and Sarah Moran, CEO and Co-Founder of Girl Geek Academy about the importance of STEM in school curricula.

Students at Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar learning STEM skills. Source: Thrive PR

GC: What are some new STEM jobs or industries which you think may be created in the future?

MD: Technology is constantly changing the world around us – we’re still waiting to see exactly how careers will be changed by emerging technologies like 3D printing, driver-less transportation, drones and Virtual Reality.  With technologies like the Hololens, will our students be working in virtual teams with members from across the world? How will the future generations of 3D printing change the manufacturing business, and what it means to be a designer?  This is why it is important that our students are creative thinkers, able to adapt to new changes as they happen.

At Strathcona, we acknowledge that knowledge of technology is relevant across all industries, although having a strong skill set in coding, IT programming, engineering and mathematics can spur students into a career or job position that may not even exist yet! By having these skills, they can create the career they want and forge their own path, rather than waiting to fill a position – the world is their oyster!

SM: We are seeing emerging industries such as AI, machine learning and the growth of robotics, but also current industries will see many new jobs created when the applications of this tech is applied. For example health, transport, finance, education and more are all starting to see rapid change. When we think about the jobs of the future, we have to get our heads around the fact most of them haven’t been invented yet – and that’s okay. We’re preparing young people with the skills to solve problems, which will be useful in every industry.

GC: Why do you think STEM is so important? What do you hope that your students gain from participating in STEM subjects whilst at Strathcona?

MD: STEM is incredibly important as it creates a foundation for a range of skills far beyond science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For example, by integrating STEM skills through play during the Nintendo Labo workshop, our students also developed problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking skills. STEM skills are a gatekeeper to many wonderful careers: by fostering an interest in STEM subjects in our students from an early age, we are giving them a head start for many interesting pathways in the future.

GC: What skills and practical experience will students have gained by the end of this program?

MD: This initiative aligns well with Strathcona’s goal to enable students to be creators of technology rather than just users. The program is an excellent way to introduce programming skills, inspiring students to build and design their own games, activities, and gaming software.  Since Nintendo Labo kits combine hands-on creation and technology, they can be a great way to illustrate basic STEAM concepts, as well as skills including communication, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. The girls are gaining an understanding of the fundamentals of Nintendo Labo by making, playing and discovering the intricacies of the technology, but also how a piece of software, such as the Nintendo Labo, is created and used from a user perspective.

Sarah Moran (centre) and students from Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar using Nintendo Labo technology. Source: Thrive PR.

GC: What skills and practical experience will students have gained by the end of this program?

SM: Students will be exposed to STEM through play – I’ve been in the classroom alongside kids in the program and we all had a blast. This is a new way of getting practical experience, by using technology kids love in new creative ways. The technology allows users to become amateur inventors using a mode included in Nintendo Labo called Toy-Con Garage. This extension of the software introduces basic principles of programming and allows anyone to use the tools and technology within each kit to develop their own imaginative creations, from musical instruments to analog clocks and much more.

GC: What are your future predictions of STEM skill development in schools?

SM: I predict with technology moving so fast, classrooms will adapt to become “real world” lab-like places. Blending traditional learning processes with the latest skills and opportunities to learn. This will feed the enthusiasm young people have always had for technology, and teach them early that it’s not the technology but what they do with it that counts.

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B. Bus, B.A, B. Bus & Comms (Hons). I enjoy all things magical, fantastical and paranormal. I'm looking forward to combining my business knowledge and creativity to produce engaging content for the video game industry.