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Remote WA schools win at nationwide STEM awards

 | 29 March 2018

A school that teaches robotics in its local Aboriginal language and a primary school student who discovered an undescribed species of spider are among the winners of nationwide science awards.

Wiluna Remote Community School

Wiluna Remote Community School accepting a $10,000 cheque for winning the STEM School Award. Photo: CSIRO

In an outstanding showcase of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in country Western Australia, two of the State’s most remote public schools took out major titles in the 2017 National Indigenous STEM Awards.

Hidden away near the desert in the mid-west with just over 70 students, Wiluna Remote Community School claimed the STEM School Award.

The Wiluna community celebrated at a ceremony yesterday, with students showing off their skills in a range of activities including indoor robotics sessions using Martu language.

Wiluna won the award for working with the local community and Martu rangers to use traditional knowledge for teaching science. It received $10,000 to put towards using local Aboriginal knowledge in its teaching and developing enquiry-based learning for students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills.

In the Goldfields-Esperance at Leonora District High School, teacher Fifi Harris won the STEM Champion Award, and student-turned-spider-discoverer Boyden George won the Student Science Award.

Boyden George

Boyden George, winner of the 2017 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Science Award. Photo: CSIRO

It’s been a quick rise to fame for Boyden according to his principal, after the primary student made an interesting discovery while participating in a ‘bush-blitz’ program.

Boyden found a unique spider and went to great lengths to take a photograph and submit it for verification by the Questagame biodiversity program, where an expert confirmed it was an undescribed species.

Fifi Harris, an Aboriginal and Islander education officer at the school, received the award for her work encouraging Aboriginal students to get involved in STEM.

Fifi runs the school’s Department for Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions Bushranger Program which provides environmental activities that connect students to the land. She also leads the school’s integration of Western science with local language and culture.

The awards – run by CSIRO and the BHP Billiton Foundation – highlight the achievements of Aboriginal teachers and students in STEM, and recognise the important role schools play in supporting students to pursue careers in STEM.

CSIRO Indigenous STEM Education Project Director Therese Postma says the winners continuously inspire Aboriginal students.

“Wiluna Remote Community School is an outstanding example of an entire community coming together to teach students two-way science in Indigenous contexts,” she says.

"Fifi demonstrates on a daily basis how Aboriginal students can be effectively engaged in STEM."

Fifi Harris

Fifi Harris, winner of the STEM Champion Award. Photo: CSIRO