Playful education keeps kids connected to STEM
Gamified education could be key to boosting STEM capabilities in primary school students, as new research from the University of South Australia (UniSA) shows it can improve spatial reasoning skills and shape positive attitudes towards STEM and design thinking.
The study showed that regular use of Makers Empire, a playful 3D computer-aided design program, can significantly improve spatial reasoning skills in up to 85% of children.
Spatial reasoning is the ability to relate objects and understand how they interact and look from different angles and environments. It’s a key skill for many professions, but especially important for jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Lead researcher, UniSA Associate Professor Simon Leonard, says finding ways to connect and stimulate children’s interest in STEM is vital to Australia’s economic prosperity.
“The number of students studying STEM subjects in high school is still far too low, so it is essential that we continue to encourage young students to develop a keen interest and ability in these key areas,” says Leonard.
“We have known for some time now that spatial thinking is one of the important ingredients for success in STEM disciplines, and that spatial reasoning is malleable, it can be improved. By involving children in the Makers Empire program, we not only showed improvements in students’ spatial reasoning abilities, but also that the growth trajectory was highest among students who struggled in this area. Students who started with slightly lower spatial reasoning skills than their peers demonstrated three times the growth trajectory of their peers who started with more developed skills. This group also reported increased enjoyment and reduced anxiety with digital and design technologies. »
Working with 155 elementary school students (aged 11-13), the study evaluated the use of the Makers Empire 3D design app for a 45-90 minute lesson each week, over 10 weeks. Both boys and girls showed significant increases in three spatial reasoning skills: mental rotation, spatial orientation, and spatial visualization.
Importantly, the program also strengthened girls’ beliefs and abilities to master these spatial reasoning skills, reducing the gender gap from 3.5% to 1.9%.
In Australia, women make up just 28% of the STEM workforce, with gender gaps particularly high in some of the fastest growing and highest paying jobs of the future.
Mandi Dimitriadis, Director of Learning at Makers Empire, says the results of this research are very encouraging.
“Helping children develop their spatial reasoning skills in a fun and engaging way is truly rewarding, and we’re very excited to see evidence of what teachers have told us over the years,” says Dimitriadis.
“It is especially gratifying to see so many young girls taking an interest in this technology and becoming more enthusiastic about STEM. Supporting children’s confidence and skills in STEM is vital for their future success; we’re just thrilled to be able to play a small part in this exciting journey.
– This press release was originally published on the University of South Australia website