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.

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EΔRTH

Build a climate system from scratch and examine the likely suspects in what is possibly the greatest crime committed on EΔRTH.

The human race has reached out to the stars and, as a young member of the Intergalactic Space Tourism and Residential Services (iSTARS), you are charged with finding a new planet to colonise. It will be a luxurious residential destination with all the look and feel of old Earth.

But scouring the galactic neighbourhood for the perfect place to colonise proves difficult. First (unit 1) you must locate a suitable source of energy: a sun that won’t ignite the sky or freeze the atmosphere. And then, there’s still the issue of where to park your planet so that the energy from the star gives you a good starting temperature. The final, and most crucial, ingredient is an atmosphere that stabilises the planet at a healthy temperature (unit 2).

The search for the universe’s perfect porridge – not too hot, not too cold, but just right – pays off and the masses arrive in droves. The planet thrives and grows under your supervision (unit 3).

But not everything is perfect in paradise. Some residents believe the delicate balance is threatened by the very people occupying the planet, others believe the changes are due to nature, and still others question the claim that anything is happening at all (unit 4).

Taking charge of the planet you helped make prosperous, you must gather the evidence, assess the claims, consider what you’ve learned and argue your case. From this you’ll rise to lead the planet to a solution that will ensure your survival, or else make this the human race’s last resort.

EΔRTH was created by a team from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, led by Professor Steven Sherwood, with project officer Angela Maharaj and consulting by Alex Sen Gupta, Gab Abramowitz and Erik Van Sebille. The entire science team are part of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCSS).

EΔRTH 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.

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Unit 1: A New Earth

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Bright Lights

Students search for a new sun for the planet to orbit. But what makes a star suitable to supporting life? Students must apply their knowledge of radiation, waves and energy.

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The Goldilocks Zone

Having found a Sun-like star, students must next choose the right orbit for their new Earth. They discover that knowing where life might occur isn’t as easy as finding the right temperature.

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On the Surface

Now, that students have placed their planet, it's time to look at the surface. Surprisingly, things aren’t as comfortable as they might seem from the outside. The planet is not able to hold any of its heat.

Unit 2: A Relaxing Atmosphere

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The Blue Planet

After making some colourful ‘design choices', students find that the colours of the planet doesn’t just change the way it looks, it changes its temperature. Using this as a means to investigate, they will explore what is happening to the temperature and what role the land surface is playing.

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Something in the air

The final key to creating a habitable planet is an atmosphere. Not just one with oxygen for humans to breathe but one with the ingredients to keep the Earth at a constant and stable temperature.

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Sources and sinks

Now the effects of each atmospheric gas are known, and the ideal concentrations have been found. But rather than pumping these gases into the atmosphere, students must first find their natural sources.

Unit 3: New Arrivals

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The colonists arrive

The planet is now ready to colonise with tourists! You will have to provide them with jobs, housing and entertainment - all the while drawing upon resources from your planet.

A heated debate

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Reliable signs

The student’s citizens have been living on your planet quite happily for almost two centuries, but questions have been raised about whether something is wrong. Is their planet warming?

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Weighing Influences

A worrying trend in the climate has been identified. Looking at the claims of others as to the possible causes, students use the skills and knowledge gained while developing their planet to investigate what impact each of the influences have.

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Nature or not?

Having investigated the drivers behind the warming trend, the influence of increased greenhouse gases is the strongest. Are these increasing emissions natural or man made - and by how much?

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