Science and Engineering Challenge inspires young minds
STUDENTS from a record number of high schools are tackling some hefty hands-on science challenges this week at the 2015 Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge at Southern Cross University.
The annual event was expanded to three days this year to accommodate 22 high schools from as far as Grafton, Tweed and Woodenbong.
It sees student groups pit themselves some extraordinary hands-on engineering problems, which include designing a "Mars Rover" buggy able to traverse rough terrain, the construction of a durable miniature house with eco-materials, and designing a bridge with a handful of balsa wood.
Each engineering design has to run the gauntlet of a series of escalating tests designed to check its veracity, the highlight being an iron cart weighing up to 9.5kg rolled along the balsa wood bridge.
Evans River K-12 Head of Science Penny Cooper said the aim was to give the students some exposure to real-life science while instilling passion for the discipline.
"We're hoping today they'll walk away with skills in team-building, collaboration, and come away with some creative ideas in problem solving," she said.
Getting their buggy to survive the rough conditions of Mars was an enjoyable brain teaser for Kyogle High School students Isabelle Slater and Shay Spargo.
With their first buggy failing to handle the terrain, the pair had to go back to the drawing board and start again with a smaller more compact model, but they were having fun doing it.
Isabelle said she liked the creative side of science.
"It's the thinking out-of-the-box type of stuff," she said.
"You're not in the classroom doing the textbook type things, it's real life situations where you can be creative."
"It's a lot of fun."
SCU Dean of Engineering Scott Smith said SCU was now fully "open for business" in the engineering field.
Not enough young Aussies pursuing STEM subjects
RESEARCH has indicated the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) lead to more jobs and careers, but there's not enough young Australians pursuing them.
Anxiety over this state of affairs has most recently prompted Education Minister Christopher Pyne to argue maths and science should be made compulsory in Year 11 and 12.
Compulsory or not, experts say the best solution is to simply make maths and science more interesting and relevant.
Evans River K-12 Head of Science Penny Cooper said often students knew all too well the workload associated with high achievement in maths and science, but were unaware of the variety of roles in the field.
"That's why we bring our kids here ... they get some hands-on experience in how you make prototypes, how you test ideas, and how you value each other's ideas," Ms Cooper said.