Festival of big ideas gets students from St Ursula's College Kingsgrove and Our Lady of Fatima Primary School future-ready

An inspiring, fun-filled festival has given students at St Ursula's College Kingsgrove and Our Lady of Fatima Primary School a taste of skills that are in growing demand in a rapidly changing world.

The Festival of Big Ideas (June 17-21) was an opportunity for students from Kindergarten to year 12 at the neighbouring schools to test their strengths in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

The idea was conceived earlier this year at a school brainstorming day with the team at innovative Australian software company Atlassian.

During this session, St Ursula's students and teachers, along with Atlassian staff, worked to solve a problem identified at the school - a lack of awareness and opportunity in STEM learning.

Students joined in a range of events throughout the week, applying their creativity, critical thinking, digital and problem-solving skills to an array of challenges.

Highlights included a solar car challenge, a school-wide paper plane contest, micro:bit and virtual reality workshops, an artificial intelligence competition and a marshmallow spaghetti tower build-off.

Students from years 5 and 7 pitched their micro-farm concepts, with the winning design to guide the development of an outdoor learning garden which will drive authentic STEM learning opportunities in the future.

Children also had the chance to learn from industry experts, with guests from Atlassian sharing their experience in STEM and education specialists from Microsoft facilitating coding workshops. They attended events by Fizzics Education, STEM Punks and Kaleidoscope Science.

STEM co-ordinator for both schools, Andrew Di Lizio, said the festival exposed students to some of the skills that will be required to solve the problems of the future in an exciting, engaging way.

"It's vital for our students to not only be conscious of the big issues facing our world but to also to be empowered with the skills to solve them," he said.

"We are encouraging our students to take risks in their learning and to fail forward, which means understanding achievement as a series of trial and error opportunities."

He said the initiative was a chance for students to build their resilience - a critical attribute for people studying and working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

"We are just at the beginning of our STEM journey and excited about incorporating these experiences into all areas of learning," he said.

"My hope is that we can develop our students critical STEM skills throughout their education to ensure they are as prepared as possible for challenges they face in future study, work and life.

"We want to build problem-solving skills and resilience so that when students hit road blocks they are confident they can overcome them.

"Very early on in the task they're tentative to try things and by the end they are hands-on and deep into it, having fun and learning without even realising it."

Our Lady of Fatima acting principal Margrita Cutrupi said the festival activities demonstrated how transferrable the skills gained in primary school were to the secondary school environment.

Both the college and primary school offer the Newman Selective Gifted Education Program and collaborate on STEM projects including the festival.

"The festival has been tremendous in terms of the learning that has been made available to the children and there is potential for growth next year," she said.

"This is the beauty of collaborative partnerships - we learn from each other."

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