Choose the best option

On this page:

What is this step and why do it?

There is a lot happening in STEM education. This means there are a lot of options to consider. Working through them can be overwhelming.

This step helps you develop and work through different options by:

  • Understanding what we know works best — in STEM education generally, and for the specific objectives you have in mind, and groups that you are going to target.
  • Considering what is possible for you, and what constraints you might face such as your ability to work with others, or the time and resources you have available.
  • Putting this information together to choose between a few sensible options.

By the end of this step, you will have:

  • Learnt and understood what is known already about ‘what works’ in STEM education.
  • Tried to build on what is already happening.
  • Acknowledged what is possible for you and what constraints you face.
  • Considered your options and chosen your initiative.

Learn and understand what we know works in STEM education

STEM education is a complex and quickly developing area. It makes sense to start by grasping what we know works, so you are learning from others’ experience, and leading research in this area. It is useful for you to build and / or check your understanding in three key areas. This Toolkit can help you with each one:

1. What is generally good practice for STEM education?

To increase student engagement and achievement, STEM education in the classroom needs to reflect what’s happening in STEM’s exciting fields outside the classroom. This Toolkit provides 9 principles that support this.

2. What is best for the group that I am looking to target?

There are different challenges and strategies for targeting STEM education to different groups. This Toolkit provides information about how these relate to different age groups, and to groups who need special or additional support in STEM education, such as rural and remote communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and high-achieving students.

3. What kinds of initiatives generally work well, and when?

There are many different things you can do to support STEM education. These include professional development, classroom activities and beyond. It can be hard to know where to start. This Toolkit provides an overview of 13 different kinds of initiatives, explains their benefits and limitations, and the evidence behind them. You can filter and search these initiatives to find suggestions for what might be right for you.

All these sections of the Toolkit have real-world examples to explore, and links for further reading on approaches that may appeal to you.

Understanding what we know is the best starting point — but unlikely to indicate what you should definitely do, and how to do it:

  • There isn’t always clear evidence about what works well or best.
  • Trying something new or innovative isn’t always a bad idea.
  • Your circumstances are unique. The particular objectives you have in mind for your initiative, and the group you are targeting, might be similar to others but won’t be identical. You need to consider your specific context.

Combine what we know about STEM education with your circumstances to come up with some ideas. These ideas form a shortlist you can develop as you work through this step.

Build on what is already happening

Getting involved in effective STEM education doesn’t always mean starting from scratch. Building on what others are already doing can help you achieve greater impact — and it can save time, effort and resources. There are lots of different ways to build on what is already happening. For example, consider:

  • Is there a resource, or set of resources, that you could base your initiative around, making it easy to implement? For example:
    • Mathematics by Inquiry developed resources for teaching maths and professional development for maths teachers. They are designed to support teachers to teach maths with an inquiry-based approach. They are freely available, being developed for Foundation to Year 10 students, and could be a foundation on which to build a different approach to teaching maths in a school.
    • The iSTEM curriculum, developed by Regional Development Australia Hunter's ME Program and local businesses, is material for an elective subject that teaches STEM in an integrated way to Year 9 and 10 students. Students learn about subjects such as mechatronics, aerodynamics and engineering through problem-based learning and 'on-the-job' situations.
    • Digital Technologies Hub is a curated collection of resources for teachers and schools to help implement the new Digital Technologies Curriculum. It includes material to build algorithmic and computational thinking skills.
    • Evidence for Learning's Teaching and Learning Toolkit shares ideas, resources and evidence about different approaches you could try using digital technologies, collaborative learning and more.
  • Is there already an initiative that suits your outcomes for the students you are targeting? Could you become part of it? Some potential examples of easy initiatives to join include:
    • Kids Unlimited offers incursions and extra-curricular activities for students in coding, science and electrical engineering at schools. Kids Unlimited also provides curriculum support, mentoring and professional learning for teachers, particularly using technology in the classroom and teaching to the Digital Technologies Curriculum.

    There are also websites that gather different initiatives you may be able to join. Key examples include:

    • STARportal: A directory of some STEM education initiatives in Australia. You can filter and search initiatives to see what might be right for you.
    • Schools Plus:This connects business and donors with schools that need support for specific projects through an online portal. You can filter these by category to find the projects relating to STEM.
  • Do you already have an established relationship or knowledge of a potential partner? For example, is there a local business organisation interested in STEM? If you are a business, are you aware of any schools that are particularly struggling or interested in partnering? There are many ways business partners in particular can support STEM education, and lots of ways schools and businesses can partner together. Could you approach them to discuss your idea?
  • If you don’t have direct contact with a potential partner, is there an intermediary organisation which could link you with potential partners? For example:
    • The Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy provides opportunities for nearly 40 schools in Queensland to connect with organisations in the resources sector. These include events, industry personnel in schools, trade camps, and student and teacher digital technology workshops.
    • Regional Development Australia Hunter runs two programs that match schools with partners so students can access the people, resources and technology to encourage their interest in STEM. The ME program is run for secondary school students, while the miniME program was recently launched for primary school students.

Thinking about how you can work with others should change the options on your shortlist. There may be new options to add, or variations on those you were already considering that include you partnering with others in different ways.

Acknowledge what is (and is not) possible

Just as important as considering what will be most effective for you, is understanding what will be possible and realistic. It is important to think not only about your strengths and opportunities, but also your limitations and constraints. Everyone who is thinking about STEM education — individual, school, business or other group — will have some constraints.

Being realistic about how your constraints will narrow down what is possible. For example:

  • How big is your budget for an initiative?
  • What time / resources do you have available for:
    • Setting up the initiative?
    • Taking part in or running the initiative?
    • Evaluating the initiative?
  • What level of commitment can you make to finding a potential partner and co-ordinating with them (including co-design, running and evaluation of the initiative)?
  • Do you face other potential barriers or opportunities? For example, if your school / business is remote, if your organisation has little exposure to the education sector or if your school has little exposure to working with industry.

Practical considerations may mean you remove options from your shortlist. Varying constraints make different options easier or harder to achieve. This is important to understand, and factor into your decision-making.

Consider your options to choose your initiative

To choose your initiative you need to bring together all the knowledge and thinking from this section.

You need to choose between the options you have placed on your shortlist by considering two factors:

  • Effectiveness: How well would the initiative achieve your identified outcome for the students you wish to target?
  • Practicality: How easy would it be to design and implement this initiative?

You can use the Template: Choose your initiative to bring your ideas together on initiatives, compare them and come to a decision.

The template asks you to:

  • List your options and describe them.
  • Rank each for effectiveness based on a scale of 1 to 5 stars.
  • Rank practicality based on a traffic light (green is easy to achieve, yellow is challenging but achievable, red is difficult).

The template will help make your thinking clear, but it is not a calculator. There is no right or wrong answer. You will have to make judgements about what is best for your circumstances.

When you are filling in this template do:

  • Be realistic and fair when rating options. Your top option does not have to be 5-star and a green light. In fact, you might have a red light for practicality and four stars for effectiveness, but are certain the initiative would be worth the effort so you choose it anyway. Equally, a green light and a 2-star rating could be a great way option to start making an impact for students. The ratings are only to help guide the process.
  • List initiatives that are slightly different as separate options (e.g. Option 1: a 7-day initiative to work on real-world problems and Option 2:a 3-day program to work on real-world problems).
  • Note why you’ve given an option a particular rating (this makes your decision-making process more transparent).

But don’t:

  • Include options that are clearly impossible.
  • Calculate all the time, effort and resources required to understand practicality. Just your sense of how hard it would be (after you’ve considered your constraints) will do at this stage.