Ideas and innovation at STEM showcase

Illawarra and Shoalhaven schools took part in a STEM showcase to promote their Young ICT Explorer projects. Julee Brienen reports.

Two students with an invention made of string and paddle pop sticks. Two students with an invention made of string and paddle pop sticks.
Image: Corrimal High School students Lacey and Elliot with their solar-powered clotheslines.

Avalon Jankowski was inspired to develop her wildfire alert system after the devastating 2019 bushfires which decimated wildlife, destroyed vast areas of forest, and saw the loss of so many homes.

“I love animals and trees and nature, and it made me sad when all of the animals were getting burned,” Avalon, a Year 3 student at Tarrawanna Public School, said.

Her wildlife alert system featured at the recent STEM showcase at the University of Wollongong Innovation Campus where 160 students from 13 schools presented their Young ICT Explorer projects to their peers, teachers and industry mentors.

The diverse range of STEM-based innovations included a solar-powered UV light hamper to dry and disinfect towels; a pendant to be activated to alert authorities to people at risk of family violence; a robot that picks up rubbish; a solar-powered rotating clothesline; and a device to help farmers know when to harvest crops.

Illawarra Academy of STEM Project Officer Russ Taunton said the Young ICT Explorer program aimed to inspire students from Years 3 to 12 to use creativity and innovation to gain a greater understanding of the possibilities of technology, solve real-world problems, and encourage students to consider STEM-enabled careers.

Mr Taunton said that students nationally present to online judges. The Easy Agile Innovation Showcase was targeted to schools in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven who are supported by the Smith Family and the Illawarra Academy of STEM Excellence as part of the Department of Education STEM Industry School Partnership program.

Avalon, 8, said when her teacher mentioned the STEM project it gave her the idea to work on a fire alert system.

“The idea came into my head that an early warning would help a lot. Less houses will burn and less animals will die,” she said.

Her device could be attached to trees near properties or in forests and would sound an alarm and alert the local fire brigade or SES when temperatures were close to the fire ignition point.

“Once the fire is already burning, it’s too late, and the fire is too big and too hard to stop,” Avalon said.

“This is an early warning that a fire is about to start, and hopefully that will mean that not as many things will burn.”

The industry mentors at the STEM showcase included Easy Agile, The Smith Family, Illawarra Academy of STEM Excellence, UoW Motorsport Team, iAccelerate, UoW STEM Outreach, UoW Research Engineers, BlueScope, Grid Sight, Wollongong City Council, Training Services NSW, Flagstaff Group, Zig Zag Hub, CSIRO, and Modern Teaching Aids.

Mr Taunton said the industry mentors saw the students’ innovation projects for the first time at the showcase.

“This is a great opportunity for students to share their ideas, innovations and projects with local Illawarra industry mentors,” he said.

“Who knows, a local industry group may pick up the idea and wish to prototype it.”

Nicholas Muldoon, founder of Australian software company Easy Agile, said it was encouraging to see so many female students – 65 per cent of the presenters – at the showcase. He said it was important to increase the representation of women in STEM study and careers, as diversity in workplace teams provided better solutions and outcomes.

“Our research tells us that with girls you have to start really early when it comes to STEM,” he said.

“We want to find ways for the students to engage in a fun and challenging way, develop their curiosity and, help them take STEM through high school, university, and continue on to a career in technology.”

  • The schools involved in the STEM showcase were Corrimal, Warrawong, Illawarra Sports and Shoalhaven high schools, and primary schools Bellambi, Corrimal East, Tarrawanna, Lake Heights, Kemblawarra, Farmborough Rd, Mt Brown, Berkeley, Culburra.
Students looking at a wildlife alert system. Students looking at a wildlife alert system.
Image: Tarrawanna Public student Avalon Jankowski explains her wildlife alert system to prevent loss in bushfires.
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