By CELA on 4 Feb, 2022

Inspired by the long term benefits of early STEM learning

Rise & Shine Kindergarten provides education and care to children from 940 families and employs over 220 educators across 10 services in Sydney and Maroochydore. They were inspired to develop the STEM hub after reading research by the National Science Foundation which concluded that young children benefit from learning STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) because these disciplines play a fundamental role in setting the foundations for future learning.

"Hands-on STEM education allows children to enter a world full of excitement and fun, endless things to wonder about and to investigate," says Curriculum Practice Manager Debbie Andriopoulos. "Children are innately curious and want to find out more about the world, and as a result, most of their questions are naturally related to STEM subjects."

In addition to acknowledging the educational benefits that could follow from putting a bigger focus on STEM at their services, Debbie says that the Rise & Shine team reflected on the things that children were missing out on during lockdown such as visiting museums, social engagements and access to extracurricular activities.

"We just knew that creating our own magical space for children to explore safely was the way forward for us," explains Debbie. "The Approved Provider, Edward Zaki and Head of Operations Jennifer Weston came up with the concept of Orbit – Centre of Imagination, and spent the last 2 years researching, designing and planning the hub. The final result has exceeded our expectations; to see the beaming faces of the children as they explore the space is unbelievable!"

The Orbit STEM hub is the first of its kind in Australia and has been designed to inspire the imagination of children through interactive STEM experiences, mind blowing displays and educational materials. It is currently only available to the children enrolled at Rise & Shine services, but will soon be open as a STEM training facility in conjunction with Little Scientists.

“At Little Scientists, we are very excited about collaborating closely and long term with all the educators, educational leaders and centre directors across all Rise & Shine services – supporting them to spot the STEM in the everyday and flexing their STEM muscles," says Sibylle Seidler, Project Director at Little Scientists. "When that learning is combined with state-of-the-art learning facilities such as Orbit, it’s a delight, and many generations of children will benefit from this investment in both the educator’s and children’s future."

Rise & Shine have a dedicated Orbit Ranger called Tabby, who delivers the STEM curriculum in collaboration with Curriculum Practice Manager, Debbie. Tabby has always been passionate about STEM, so was the perfect fit for this role.

Obit Ranger Tabby introduces children to a giant burrowing cockroach

"Our educators are all very excited to be collaborating with Little Scientists in STEM professional development to ensure we are a community of learners supporting children in their STEM journey," shares Debbie. 

Stepping into the hub you will find an amazing array of resources and interactive stations set out in different areas. 

The areas include:

  • Science Lab
  • Discovery Centre
  • Draw Alive
  • Plasma Ball
  • Microscope
  • 3D printer
  • Interactive sand box
  • Construction zone with real tools
  • Lego zone
  • Life size pin art

In the Discovery area there are live stick insects, hermit crabs, giant burrowing cockroaches and ‘Newton’ the Bearded Dragon. The children have a hands on experience of caring for these creatures and they learn firsthand about their habitats and environments.

Children meet Newton the bearded dragon

Building problem-solving skills through enquiry based learning

The focus for children visiting the hub is to participate in inquiry-based STEM experiences, which have seen some amazing projects commence at individual services as an extension of what they have learnt at the hub.

Inquiry based learning is an approach for teaching STEM that prioritises investigation and problem-solving. Children start with questions and use different methods of exploration to find the answers. It's the opposite of educators giving children facts to memorise. Instead, educators learn alongside children. A project can take many twists and turns, with unexpected questions and answers.

Child-led STEM exploration often starts with children asking questions about their everyday lives. When educators let children follow their curiosities, the learning has greater context and meaning.

"Our Orbit ranger Tabby visits our services and does Zoom sessions with the children prior to their visits to gain insight into their enquiries and what they want to explore," explains Debbie. "These ideas are then adapted into the Orbit environment and curriculum. Children are able to spend time at each of the different zones inside Orbit, and take the time to sit down at the end and reflect on their time. Children’s ideas and discoveries are documented in our floorbooks, and amazing projects follow in our preschool rooms! Each session lasts for around 2 hours."

The children have loved using the space since its opening, here's what some of them had to say: 

I love the sand. We can change the world.

Leon, 4 years old

I love the construction, the lego table, the lizard, there’s dinosaurs we can play with. When I go there I feel really good and happy.

Joshua, 5 years old

I really like the draw table. I like it when I draw a dinosaur and it hatches alive on the TV.

 Hannah, 5 years old

What's planned for the Orbit's future? 

Tabby will soon visit Queensland to introduce the concept to services up there, and there are future plans for Rise & Shine to eventually develop a STEM hub up north. 

Rise & Shine will be offering free STEM professional development opportunities from Orbit in 2022 for educators, and will open Orbit for tours for any educators who may be interested in viewing the space.

For more information, or to remain across Orbit events in 2022 please follow their Facbook page here.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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