Ultimate STEM Challenge brings students together

Vicky Parson, science teacher at InterHigh School, talks about online science education and how her students prepared for the Ultimate STEM Challenge.

Two students from online secondary school InterHigh competed in this year’s Ultimate STEM Challenge final at the Science Museum on 12 March.

InterHigh set out in 2015 to create an independent online secondary school that offered a fresh relationship with learning. Students are given control over their learning and direct access to teachers during and after classes.

We spoke to science teacher Vicky Parson to find out more about how InterHigh works in practice, and how the school is helping students to collaborate across borders on projects like the Ultimate STEM Challenge.

How does InterHigh work in practice, as a complete online secondary school and sixth form college?

InterHigh operates across Wey Education’s state-of-the-art learning platform. From an online log-in, students access the teaching and learning area with a ‘virtual classroom’ for live lessons on each curriculum subject.

During lessons, teachers can create opportunities for students to complete group work in different ways – for example, students in a class can be organised into ‘breakout rooms’, where they collaborate to complete tasks. This happens in real time, even though they are located apart geographically.

Students communicate using microphones, video and text chat both in the main lesson and in breakout rooms.

Homework can be completed independently or in groups. For group projects, we give students opportunities to develop their ideas work during lessons and then encourage them to build upon this work in their own time, without teacher supervision.

How does the technology support collaborative project work when students are working remotely?

The Ultimate STEM Challenge is actually the first time we’ve participated in a collaborative competition, so it was a learning process for the school too!

We set the challenge to all students in Year 9, giving everybody the opportunity to participate in whatever way possible. We looked at the wonderful Ultimate STEM Challenge resources on the BP Educational Service website, discussed them with our classes, and then set students free to pursue their own ideas.

Students worked together over email and the learning platform, which was incredible to watch in real time, especially with students from different countries and cultures! We saw ideas for moisture capture, hydroelectric power, vertical farming and innovative potato farming.

The two students who reached the final managed to meet up in person on a few occasions, which they organised themselves. This enabled them to complete a working water turbine, before they compared it with a second design under control conditions.

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