Homemade phone chargers spark Indigenous girls' interest in maths and science

Homemade phone chargers spark Indigenous girls' interest in maths and science

Homemade phone chargers spark Indigenous girls' interest in maths and science

Updated 11 November 2017, 16:05 AEDT

A teacher in Western Australia's South West finds a way to boost the number of Indigenous girls studying maths and science by letting them design and build phone chargers.

A teacher in WA's South West has found a way to boost the number of Indigenous girls studying maths and science by letting them design and build phone chargers.

Ashley Stewart, who teaches at Newton Moore Senior High School in Bunbury, said many of her students were not engaging in maths until she incorporated their love of technology into the lesson plan.

"They were all on their phones when I was trying to chat to them. I found my answer," she said.

Ms Stewart introduced classes where students in Year 7 and 8 could design and build their own phone chargers.

They learnt about electromagnetic induction, and used algebra to calculate factors such as volts, amps and wattage.

The Year 8 students made home-cranked phone chargers, then made recommendations to the Year 7 students.

The Year 7s then made bicycle-powered and solar chargers as well.

Sparking interest and boosting attendance

Ms Stewart said she had seen a big change in her students.

"They're actually engaged and owning their own learning," she said.

Year 7 student Denise Pickett said she had not been interested in maths until now.

"This just taught me that maths is not just numbers," she said.

"I even teach my mum stuff. I go home and tell her all about it and she's surprised that she learnt something as well."

When the program was rolled out earlier in the year, Mrs Stewart said there was also a big spike in attendance.

"Normally there was maybe six or seven missing in the class, but when we started doing the project, they were all there, 100 per cent of the time."

Indigenous students falling behind in maths

Ms Stewart received an Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute top award for her efforts, which comes with a $20,000 prize.

The money is being used to continue the initiative and fund three maths scholarships at the school.

A recent report by the institute found Indigenous students were eight times more likely to fall behind in maths by Year 9.

It showed 17.4 per cent of Indigenous Year 9 students were below the minimum maths standard, compared to only 2.1 per cent of their non-Indigenous classmates.

But Ms Stewart's goal is to see more female Indigenous students carry on maths and science at university.

For at least one student, that is looking likely.

Lara Riley, also in Year 7, said she was hoping to continue her studies.

"It seems like the right time, but I'm sort of interested in being an engineer," she said.

Ms Stewart is using her prize money to roll out other programs for Indigenous students, including a Girls Invent program and a spatial awareness program.