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.


Superbug Challenge

Create your own bacteria, pit it against the human immune system and see if it can evolve to survive antibiotics.

The central experience of the the “Superbug Challenge” is a simulation called the Bacteria Builder, where you manipulate the characteristics of your bacterium by dragging genes onto a DNA strand. You then test your bacterium against simulated environments: Will it find food? Reproduce? Escape phagocytosis?

Science inquiry skills are developed by formulating hypotheses about bacteria, then making observations and analysing data to draw a conclusion.

The “Superbug Challenge” is a week-long learning experience, or you can choose to use a smaller unit by itself.

In Unit 1, students will revise the requirements of life and understand the structure of bacteria as an example of single-celled life. In the simulation, bacteria must find food and reproduce to survive.

A screenshot of bacteria

In Unit 2, students explore the human immune response to infection, including the three lines of defence and how the various components of the immune response work together to try to overcome infection.

In Unit 3, students explore how organisms can mutate and evolve to be able to survive in different environments, for example in the presence of antibiotics.

The concept for the “Superbug Challenge” was created by a team from the University of Western Australia. The team was lead by Associate Professor Allison Imrie, with project officer Timo Ernst and consulting by Nobel laureate Barry Marshall.

The “Superbug Challenge” is being trialled in high schools in Western Australia. If you are interested in adopting an early version of this mini-course at your school, please contact us.


Unit 1: Life in miniature


Welcome to the Bacteria Builder!

This lesson teaches the students how to use the Bacteria Builder.


What are the requirements for life?

Revision of cells as the basic units of living things, and the requirements of life.


Bacteria Builder: Life in miniature

In level 1 of the Bacteria Builder, students have the ability to manipulate basic functions of bacteria, such as movement, size, and absorption of nutrients. They can also control superficial characteristics such as colour and texture.

Unit 2: The immune war


The immune response

Learn about the response of the body to the presence of microorganisms. It covers the first, second and third line of defence.


Bacteria Builder: The immune war

The bacteria in the Bacteria Builder now trigger the immune response. Antibodies and phagocytes enter the environment. Phagocytes (purple) can kill the bacteria. Antibodies (red) attach to the bacteria, which increase the rate of phagocytosis. Can you build a bacteria that can out compete the human immune system?

Unit 3: An antibiotic threat


What is DNA?

DNA is blueprint for controlling the characteristics of organisms. Learn about the structure of DNA and the four base pairs.


What is a mutation?

This tutorial covers the codes for amino acids and types of mutation (addition, deletion and substitution), and that mutations are the source of variation in a population.


What is antibiotic resistance?

This tutorial applies the theory of evolution by natural selection to populations of bacteria to explain the rise of superbugs (or antibiotic-resistant bacteria). At the end of this lesson, students are asked whether they think that a hand sanitiser with antibiotics should be banned. This can be used as a started for a class discussion on the appropriate use of antibiotics.


Bacteria Builder: An antibiotic threat

In the Bacteria Builder, you must build a large enough population of bacteria in order to survive a wave of antibiotics (represented first by an orange wave). A larger population represents a higher chance of having a favourable mutation.

Skill Builders


Skill builder: models

Define a scientific model, using examples, and then identify some benefits and limitations of using models. The Bacteria Builder is an example of a digital model.


Skill Builder: variables

Practice identifying the independent, the dependent and the control variables in a scientific experiment.


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