Linwood College becomes first official STEM school in New Zealand

By Michael Edmonds 15/06/2014

On Friday afternoon I attended the launch of Linwood College’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education initiative. This initiative has a wide range of supporters and collaborators including

  • local tertiary institutions (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, University of Canterbury, Lincoln University)
  • local government and businesses (including Downer and David Reid Homes)
  • Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor
  • and of course the staff, students and community associated with Linwood College

The philosophy of the day, and the initiative, is captured in the words of Sir Paul Callaghan

“the key idea is partnership”.

The launch was accompanied by a comprehensive booklet outlining why STEM education is important, who is involved and how it will be achieved. The booklet was put together by Elizabeth Connor, the first winner of the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize in 2009.

The model chosen by Linwood College is referred to as Integrative STEM Education and focuses on

1) Making learning relevant

2) Project based learning

3) Nurturing the individual

4) Integration of subjects

5) Collaboration and partner ship

6) Creating pathways through the education system into exciting careers

For the tertiary institutions one of the main challenges and opportunities will be around trying to seamlessly link the secondary and tertiary sectors, something that can be a challenge given the different approaches used in each system. The tertiary institutions will contributeto the initiative in many different ways including

  • joint courses hosted across the two sectors
  • tertiary staff mentoring Linwood College students
  • sharing use of equipment
  • visits to schools by tertiary staff
  • tertiary institutions providing professional development for school staff

While many of these contributions have already been provided previously to some schools on an ad hoc basis, the Linwood STEM approach involves a coordinated and intensive approach between the tertiary institutions and Linwood College. Symbolic of this was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by Kay Giles (Chief Executive of Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology), Jeremy Baker (Assistant Vice-Chancellor Development, Lincoln University) and Hamish Cochrane (Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic, University of Canterbury) and Margaret Paiti (Principal, Linwood College).

The exciting part of this project for me is that it is taking part in Canterbury where the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 caused a lot of damage to local schools. Some schools have have only recently re-established their STEM related facilities, and in doing so have embraced some excellent pedagogies and facilities. However, with the refurbishment/rebuild of Linwood College occurring over the next 2 years, they have started by reformulating the educational philosophy of the school and will be building and forming collaborations to match the philosophy.

Also, because Linwood College is a low decile school, the achievements made at Linwood will be widely translatable to a wide variety of schools around New Zealand (and beyond). It’s success will rely just as much on collaboration and community, as it will on technology and resources.