The Vision

It’s no secret that there is a STEM crisis, as both the number of science teachers with science degrees and the number of students choosing science is in decline.

In the Smart Science Initiative project, we’re developing intelligent courseware for year 9 and 10 (13-16 year olds) – a key stage in science education, as it precedes the biggest drop off in high school science enrolments.

The intelligent courseware contains adaptive and personalised learning experiences in science, with the purpose of helping to:

(a) build scientific literacy and skills in Australia;

(b) promote choosing science beyond Year 10 to create an unbroken pathway to tertiary studies;

(c) develop new learning assets for digitally-connected students, equally accessible to all students regardless of geographic isolation or socio-economic status; and

(d) provide new insights into how today’s students learn.

The experiences are centred around four exciting and active research areas: astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial life; infectious disease and antibiotic resistance; our changing planet; and nanotechnology.

Funded by the Australian Maths and Science Partnerships Program, the Smart Science Initiative project began on September 1, 2013 and finished October 31, 2014. The learning experiences and evaluation were made available to any teacher interested in using them.

The project is a collaboration between the University of New South Wales, the University of Western Australia, Flinders University and Smart Sparrow. Arizona State University is an advisor on the project.

Contact us to find out how you can teach using this intelligent courseware.


Are We Alone?

Are there detectable alien civilisations in the Milky Way? What do we need to know to answer the question?

Explore the most ancient of all questions: are we alone? Through this series of interactive simulations, discover how we’ve learnt more about the universe as technology improves, which stars we should focus our search on, and why the universe may be made for life.

In Unit 1, students are introduced to the Drake Equation – a simple equation that is used to calculate how many alien civilisations there are in the Milky Way. They explore the major features in the universe, including galaxies, solar systems and nebulae as they use the Drake Equation to make an estimate of the number of alien civilisations in the Milky Way. It also promotes an understanding of the distance in space.

In Unit 2, students learn more about stars, and use the interactive “Stellar Nursury” to build a star and test their hypothesis about the relationship between mass and stellar lifetime.

Searching for life.

Since 1995, we have known that planets exist around other stars. In Unit 3, students explore how we came to know this.

In Unit 4, students explore the geological and universal timeline to determine when life could have first appeared, and why we might not be alone in the universe.

The concept for “Are We Alone?” was created by a team from the University of New South Wales, lead by Dr Carol Oliver. “Are We Alone?” was adapted from Arizona State University’s course, “Habitable Worlds”, which was created by Professor Ariel Anbar, with course design by Dr Lev Horodyskyj.

“Are We Alone?” is being trialled in high schools in New South Wales. If you are interested in adopting an early version of this mini-course at your school, please contact us.


Unit 1: Introduction


Introduction to the Drake Equation

Students make an estimate of how many alien civilisations there are in the Milky Way galaxy using the Drake Equation.


Distances in space

Students use appropriate scales to describe differences in sizes of and distances between structures making up the universe.


Why the Milky Way?

Students outline some of the major features contained in the universe, including galaxies, stars, solar systems and nebulae and describe some technological developments that have advanced understanding of the universe.

Unit 2: Stars


Which stars are the best bets?

Students must make a hypothesis about the relationships between the mass and lifetime of a star, then test and review their hypothesis.

Unit 3: Planets


How do we detect planets?

Students look at data from recent space telescopes to see if they can detect planets.


(Extensions) Advanced methods of detecting planets

In this activity, students look at advanced methods of detecting planets.

Unit 4: Life


How long does it take for life to develop?

Use scientific evidence to outline how the Big Bang theory can be used to explain the origin of the universe and its age.


If you are interested in teaching with any of the content you’ve seen on the site, please fill in your details below and we will be in contact with you as soon as we can.

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