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You are reading: New research: Creative approach shapes student perceptions of STEM

Micro-surveys of school student attitudes have shown creative, careers-focused learning programs build aspirations and confidence in science and mathematics.

The University of South Australia research, led by Associate Professor Simon Leonard and Dr JohnPaul Kennedy and funded by the NCSEHE, employed an innovative research method to measure the various impacts of university outreach programs.

The micro-survey tool allowed students to indicate their immediate feelings towards each of their school subjects using a sliding scale. This approach gives rich data while being quick and low impact on students and schools.

“The research showed that incorporating creative principles into learning programs effected positive changes in students’ attitudes towards school subjects and further study,” Dr Kennedy said.

“In turn, this approach may assist in reducing subject anxiety and students’ perceptions of relative difficulty.”

The report recommends early interventions to develop students’ understandings of career pathways in secondary school, with a focus on the applicability of subject knowledge across a wide range of potential careers.

“By mid to late secondary school, students have formed ideas of which career pathways may—or may not—be suitable for them, and are expressing their intentions towards their school subjects through this lens,” Associate Professor Leonard said. ­

“If students are able to see the usefulness of a particular subject to many career areas, they may form positive intentions towards that subject before their personal career directions begin to crystalise.”

While often discussed under the blanket term of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), this study found a distinct difference between students’ attitudes towards mathematics and science.

“Improvement in mathematics engagement should focus on relevance and interesting applications of the content, whereas improvement in science engagement should be on usefulness and enjoyability,” Dr Kennedy said.

“Case study data show a one-size-fits-all approach to learning does not exist across the different key learning areas, so potential interventions need to be focused, in terms of their learning objectives.”

NCSEHE Director, Professor Sarah O’Shea highlighted the potential of this research to shape future policy and practice in student equity.

“This research method has provided snapshots of student perceptions that may not be captured through traditional surveys,” Professor O’Shea said.

“Incorporating these insights into future outreach programs could make STEM careers more approachable, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are underrepresented in these fields.”

Read the full report, A novel approach to mapping changes in student attitudes towards science and mathematics in reaction to changes in their learning environment.


This research was conducted under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.