STEM Education Research Group

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Research Group (STEM Group), formerly SMEC, operates within the School of Education in the Faculty of Humanities.

It offers postgraduate studies in the STEM areas, and has a national and international reputation for excellence in research and development.

Supervising one of the largest concentrations of postgraduate students specifically in the STEM education disciplines in the world, the STEM Group has Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Education students from all Australian states and territories and many overseas countries.

STEM teacher sitting with table of students using microscopes

Our research structure

The STEM Education Group is structured to comprise a number of clusters of education researchers in the key relevant areas of:

  • Technology and engineering
  • Science
  • Mathematics
  • Digital technologies
  • Integrated STEM

We invite inquiries and suggested collaborations from national and international researchers and students working in any of the STEM areas.

Our history

The Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC) was founded by John de Laeter in the late 1970s with David Boud as its first Director. The establishment of the Centre was a response to the need for science teachers to keep up to date in both their disciplinary and pedagogical knowledge.

As the West Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT) developed into Curtin University, SMEC also developed in national and international influence and increased its higher degree offerings. From 1988-1997, SMEC was funded by the ARC as a National Centre for Teaching and Research in School Science and Mathematics. The Centre has over 1500 graduates who are employed in over 20 different countries.

The Centre has recently changed its name to the STEM Education Research Group, reflecting its position now within the School of Education, and its expanded focus on supporting both the integrity of the independent STEM disciplines, and also their integration.

Vision, mission and goals

Vision

To be an international leader in science, technology and mathematics education research.

Mission

To provide leadership, innovation and excellence in science, technology and mathematics education research and learning, and digital technologies applied to these areas.

Goals

Goal 1: Conduct research that informs and influences the education sector.
Goal 2: Provide research informed teaching and supervision.
Goal 3: Provide national and international leadership in the STEM education professions.

Objective and strategies

ObjectivesStrategies
People and Culture
Be linked with national and international partners.
  • Align with faculty and university initiatives to develop national and international partners.

  • Establish nodes in response to cohorts of students.
  • Integrate aspects of the Centre, the School of Education, and other Schools.
  • Develop a structure which integrates with the School.

  • Recognize links with other schools.

  • Promote the colloquium as a school activity.
  • Exhibit strong research capacity in key areas.
  • Develop a succession plan.

  • Build capacity in the school for HDR supervision through mentoring.
  • Provide an engaging experience for students.
  • Foster a sense of community for all HDR students.

  • Encourage colloquium attendance and participation.

  • Organize regular social activities.

  • Involve distance students in Centre activities.

  • Establish social media networks.
  • Research and Innovation
    Support excellent research.
  • Maintain a database of STEM education research related activity in the school.

  • Consolidate research project support to develop economies of scale.
  • Achieve externally funded research projects.• Support the development of research proposals through a peer network.
  • Establish a review structure for proposal development.

  • Broadcast funding opportunities.
  • Be recognized for influential research.
  • Conduct and supervise culturally sensitive research.

  • Conduct research which is characterized by engagement with the community.

  • Disseminate research through professional journals, conferences and media.

  • Produce an annual summary of research related activities and outcomes.
  • Have a high number of research outputs.
  • Develop expectations re joint publications between supervisors and students.

  • Mentor staff publication preparation.
  • Be a hub for visiting academics.
  • Invite visiting scholars and support visiting researchers.

  • Develop a visiting scholar program.
  • Learning and Teaching
    Provide STEM education support to the School and university.
  • Contribute to the Professional Learning Hub in STEM areas.

  • Contribute in STEM and research areas to the School’s suite of higher degrees.

  • Support university initiatives.
  • Supervise an appropriate number of international and domestic HDR students according to workload guidelines.
  • Engage with the Faculty and University in strategic HDR student recruitment.

  • Facilitate timely HDR completions.

  • Maintain a sustainable number of HDR students.
  • Engagement and Impact
    Have strong networks with a range of partners.
  • Be active in professional organizations.

  • Develop links with industry related to STEM education issues.

  • Foster industry partners.
  • Have an engaged reputation.
  • Encourage membership of editorial boards of academic journals.

  • Participate as presenters and organizers in national and international conferences.

  • Organize with an international partner a biannual STEM conference.

  • • Represent the Group on national and international bodies.
    Have a significant profile
  • Develop branding for the Group.

  • Maintain an up to date website.

  • Work with central marketing to develop a marketing plan

  • Develop and regularly communicate with alumni through a database.
  • Overseas and interstate nodes

    The STEM Group operates nodes, which are communities of learners who meet regularly for mutual support and face-to-face contact with Curtin-based staff and local Adjunct staff, interstate and around the world.

    Recently, groups of students met on a regular basis in Singapore, New Zealand, Miami, New York, Fullerton (California), Dallas, Abu Dhabi, Adelaide and Tasmania. Specific information on each of these nodes is available from the STEM Group.

    Please contact us for more information.

    What is STEM?

    The meaning of STEM varies depending on the context in which it is used. It originated as an acronym politicians and workforce planners used to label a group of professions upon which economic developed depended, and in which some countries were having difficulty attracting people.

    This focus led to a range of initiatives, including streamlining pathways into university, the provision of scholarships, programs to support gender equity, attempts at the social popularisation of science, and many others.

    STEM as an education focus

    Recognition developed that attitudes toward the STEM areas were formulated throughout a child’s schooling, and so STEM education became a focus.

    The initial (and continuing in some contexts) goal of STEM education was to develop positive attitudes toward these areas so students would be more likely to pursue careers in STEM.

    This of course was not enough for educators, who need rationales related to improved learning outcomes in order to embrace an integrated approach to these curriculum subjects. And so developed STEM goals related to literacy and 21st Century skill development.

    Integrating STEM

    Through project, design and inquiry based activities, the hypothesis is that students will develop an integrated and sophisticated literacy of the world around them, while also developing skills related to creativity, innovation, critique and communication that all citizens need.

    However, it is unrealistic to think that all school education, even within the STEM areas, will be integrated; there will always be a need for education, research and practice in independent disciplines.

    So rather than representing the mission of the STEM Education Research Group, the STEM acronym represents what the group does: it respects the integrity of, and consequently engages in, research into the individual STEM education disciplines, but it also recognises there is a place for their integration, so accommodates research into integrated STEM education.

    There are many variations of the STEM acronym, developed to include the arts, or the humanities, or medicine, or society, for example. The STEM Education Research Group does not deny the validity of these various approaches in other contexts, but at this point in time, in the School of Education, this represents what we do, as a development from the former Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC).

    Research projects

    Drawing Science Diagrams to Enhance Students Scientific Creativity

    This project aims to explore the potential benefits of engaging students in drawing their own science diagrams to enhance and foster their scientific creativity. Integrating theories of creativity and multi-modal visual literacy to inform and focus the research, this project aims to generate a comprehensive analytical framework to help education researchers identify and foster scientific creativity through students’ creative science drawings. This framework, along with the teaching and learning resources to supplement it, is expected to support the development of creative scientific minds across a wide student population so they can successfully address complex future challenges.

    Investigators: Mihye Won, David Treagust, Kok-Sing Tang

    Funded by Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project


    STEM Education: Students’ Affective Outcomes, Teacher-student Relationships and Classroom Emotional Climate

    This study with 1500 integrated STEM students involves developing and validating a questionnaire to assess classroom emotional climate and investigating its mediating influence on relationships between teacher-student interactions and students’ affective outcomes. In an intervention for improving classroom emotional climate, focus groups will provide interpretation and triangulation of questionnaire findings and permit causal inferences about the influence of emotional climate on affective outcomes. A teachers’ resource e-book about emotional climate will be developed and disseminated nationally.

    Investigators: Barry Fraser, Rekha Koul and Theo Wubbels

    Partner Organisation: Utrecht University, Netherlands

    Funded by Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project


    The online future of science and engineering education: The essential elements of laboratory-based learning for remote-access implementation

    Laboratory classes are a critical part of Science and Engineering degree programs, but there has been little research into what actually takes place within them. Remote laboratories – in which students control equipment via the internet – are one potential solution for accommodating rising numbers of students, but the interfaces must be developed to effectively support student learning. This project will investigate how students interact with equipment, each other, and with laboratory demonstrators in order to determine the crucial components of effective laboratory learning experiences. It will identify and characterise the interactions of students in laboratory classes, and develop mechanisms to support these interactions remotely.

    Investigators: John Curtin Distinguished Professor David Treagust, Dr Tony Lucey, Dr Mauro Mocerino, Dr Mario Zadnik, Dr Euan Lindsay, Dr Sven Esche

    Partner Organisations: Charles Sturt University; Steven Institute of Technology, New Jersey

    Funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery)


    Igniting Interest and Promoting Understanding in Engineering and Technology among Primary-School Students through Engaging Learning Environments

    The study involved the development, implementation and evaluation of engaging curriculum materials in engineering and technology (E&T) aimed at igniting interest and enhancing understanding among primary-school students. Using a mixed-methods approach, the programme was evaluated among 1095 year 4-7 students in 36 classes in terms of the quality of the classroom learning environment and students’ attitudes and understanding. Students’ reported large improvements in their career interest and understanding in E&T, which ultimately could contribute to redressing the critical shortage of locally-trained E&T professionals.

    Investigators: Barry Fraser, Moses Tade, Rekha Koul, Nicoleta Maynard

    Partner Organisations: 4DGeotechnics Pty Ltd, Australian Railroad Group Employment Pty Ltd, Brookeldrail Pty Ltd Lycopodium Minerals Pty Ltd, Public Transport Authority of Western Australia WA Department of Transport

    Funded by Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage


    Drawing Students’ Ideas of Science in Australian and Korean Schools

    This project investigates ways to increase Australian and Korean students’ motivation to learn science and language by bringing the two groups together as they use drawings to express their scientific ideas and explain their drawings to their Australian/Korean counterparts via video conferencing. This project also contributes to strengthen the collaborative research network between Australian and Korean science education researchers.

    Investigators: Mihye Won, David Treagust, Felicity McLure, Kok-Sing Tang, Hyunju Lee, Kongju Mun, Yeonjoo Ko, Yunhee Choi

    Partner Organisation: Ewha University (Department of Science Education), Seoul, Korea

    Funded by Australia-Korea Foundation (AKF)

    Learn more


    Developing a Digital STEM Professional Learning Platform for Indian Teachers

    This project between Curtin University and Regional Institute of Education (RIE) involves the creation of a digital platform to deploy a suite of training modules to support Indian teachers to develop their STEM knowledge.

    Investigators: Rekha Koul, Rachel Sheffield, Andrew Rohl

    Funded by Australia India Council (DFAT)


    STEM Makerspace

    This project will provide support to schools, libraries and youth clubs to create, implement and evaluate the integrated STEM Makerspace approach in their learning opportunities. Educators in this project are defined more broadly to encompass classroom teachers, librarians, youth group leaders etc. Educators provide support to

    • Delineate a suitable physical space to create their Makerspace within their existing structure
    • Identify activities that educators can use that are age appropriate and curriculum-linked
    • provide the initial project materials and help educations to deliver the first ‘Wigglebot’ activity in the Makerspace where each student will take home their Wigglebot
    • Develop the Makerspace pedagogical approach which is hands-on based and designed to build a range of 21st century skills
    • Source the materials for projects that teachers may want to include in their subsequent Makerspace
    • Access the ‘STEMINIST’ website where there are a number of age appropriate activities with included links to sourcing and costs, links to the curriculum and where educators can blog for help to ‘ask an Engineer’ and get support through Curtin University engineering and education faculties.
    • Provide tools to enable educators to evaluate the students engagement and understanding in the STEM projects

    Investigators: Rehka Koul, Susan Blackley, Nicoeta Maynard

    Learn more


    Philosophical approach to Amodern Science and Amodern Measurement Theory

    Ongoing collaboration with colleagues in California and North Carolina. The project re-frames theories of measurement utilising a philosophical perspective. A phenomenological approach is applied inclusive of life-world and system-world transformation, hermeneutics, invariant measurement theory (Rasch Models) and metrology. Measurement is interpreted as a process of communication with the aim and potential for improving the human condition.

    Investigators: Rob Cavanagh, William Fisher, Jackson Stenner

    Partner Organisations: Berkeley University, University of North Carolina


     

    Available higher degree by research (HDR) projects

    The STEM Education Group is engaged in a number of research projects that involve HDR students. The following (non-exhaustive) list gives an indication of the research work that are suitable for Master of Philosophy, Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Education students. Prospective students interested in the following projects may discuss with their potential supervisors to develop their applications for admission.

    Please contact the STEM Discipline Lead (Dr Kok-Sing Tang, kok-sing.tang@curtin.edu.au) for more information.

    • The nature of disciplinary integration in STEM
    • Effective pedagogical approaches to teaching STEM
    • STEM literacy – testing validity of the concept
    • Processes of technology and engineering in STEM
    • Supporting students with autism to transition into STEM fields
    • Examining classroom discourse and practices in STEM classrooms
    • Supporting EAL learners in STEM
    • Fostering scientific creativity with drawing
    • Using multiple representations and modelling in science
    • Language and literacy in the Australian Science and Mathematics Curriculum
    • Fostering scientific explanation and argumentation
    • Exploring the culture of modern science in relation to students’ multicultural background
    • Visualizing scientific processes and phenomena through virtual reality (VR)
    • Immersive technologies (VR and AR) in learning
    • Transformational games and virtual reality in education
    • Defining and measuring computational thinking
    • Pedagogical approaches to teaching coding
    • Digital technologies and creative coding in early childhood
    • Creativity and the design process with digital technologies in the early years
    • Online academic progress tracking technologies and pedagogies
    • The use of technology to promote authentic assessment
    • Application of data analytics to schools
    • Using coding as an instrumental mentoring tool to support students with autism
    • Using technology to support language development for students with autism
    • Examining the mathematics component in STEM
    • Mathematical reasoning and proof in primary and secondary school
    • The use of contemporary equipment and resources in mathematics education
    • Inquiry approaches in mathematics education
    • Large-scale testing in mathematics
    • Early childhood in mathematics education
    • Noticing mathematics
    • Constructivist approaches in mathematics
    • Children’s Multiplicative Thinking
    • Primary Teachers’ Mathematical Content Knowledge
    • The ‘Big Ideas’ of Mathematics
    • Children’s Ability to make Effective Computational Choices
    • Primary Teachers’ Use of Data for Teaching Mathematics
    • Learning environment of virtual and physical space
    • Learning environment: emotional and psychosocial aspects
    • Learning environment in STEM
    • Learning environment: assessments, determinants and effects