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Dream design - a stem centre fuelled by fun

What began life as after-school STEM activities in an empty classroom, has transformed into an innovative programme in a dedicated and creative space. Devonport Christian School’s new STEM centre is filled with imagination and possibilities for students of all ages.

It would be difficult to find anyone as passionate about STEM as Principal Chad Smit, STEM teacher Katrina McNab and Tech expert Travis Cruse. Over the years, the trio have attended the world’s best Ed-tech conferences, competed in Lego League competitions and toured some of America’s more progressive, future-focussed schools. Each time, they brought inspiration and ideas back to DCS with a dream to build something wonderful for their own school community.

“the earlier the exposure for children to play and to learn and to engage, will increase their confidence to not fear different things as they get older.”

Chad Smit – Principal, Devonport Christian School

Tech expert, teacher Travis Cruse believes the new centre has increased student capabilities and confidence in presenting ideas.

As the group began to ideate what their ideal STEM space looked like, Chad explained how their concepts progressed to include purpose-built spaces, “we started to get more specific with the design, because one of the ways that schools can go wrong is have too many flexi spaces and not specifically built spaces”. The centre, while having open collaborative spaces, also boasts dedicated areas with green screens for filmmaking, LEGO building and rooms to present and pitch ideas.

Students get to dress in lab coats to add to the whole immersive STEM experience.

With much of the tech equipment purchased over previous years, Chad wanted to focus on the furniture and spatial design, creating something truly magical and awe-inspiring for the kids. “I think we have done things differently with a three-letter word that was always needing to be said and that is FUN. It has to have fun, has to be fun, has to live fun, it has to speak fun, and so we threw in bright colors.”

"I don’t think you have to invest heavily in the beginning. doing that can be so overwhelming with lots of different equipment.”

Katrina McNab - Head of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum, and STEM teacher

Fun and collaboration are at the heart of the STEM centre.

As much as the STEM centre’s design has ticked all the right boxes, it’s the transformation of learning which is the real success story here. Katrina loves the new skills her students are gaining, “they learn to collaborate, to problem solve, to manage resources in an ethical way and they learn some resilience - and that failure is actually a good thing. Because we learn through failure, they don’t have to fear it, they can be risk takers.”

Advice from Katrina and Travis to kickstart your own STEM space:

  • Don’t be afraid to learn with your students, start with the basics like Minecraft and ‘hour of code’.
  • Visit schools who have successfully implemented STEM and go to conferences – You’ll meet tech experts who might offer you free equipment to trial. 
  • Tech can be overwhelming and expensive. Don’t purchase an entire class set of one thing, get different smaller sets of things to keep the costs down and rotate them. 
  • If you don’t have a dedicated space, create a creative corner or if you have access to a disused bus, you can always create your own mobile makerspace. 
  • Take advantage of PD courses where you can, upskill and learn. 
  • Run sandpit sessions in the staffroom with your school experts to bring all staff along on the journey and remove ‘the fear’ of not knowing.
  • A lot of STEM is project-based learning, real-world problem solving, so it doesn’t all need to be about tech. Think about other materials (that are free) you can use.
  • Don’t wait until you are ready, otherwise you will miss so many opportunities
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