Early disruption key to instilling a connection to higher education

What do you want to be when you grow up?

UOW is doing its part to help children answer this commonly asked question by planting the seed of a university education in the minds of young students.

The Go Big! digital story series is a new initiative being piloted to connect with Year 2 students from underrepresented backgrounds in the Illawarra and South West Sydney.

The program aims to capture their young imaginations, develop potential career aspirations and introduce the notion of different higher education pathways available to them.

Just one year from concept through to delivery, the stories evolved from collaboration between UOW’s Outreach and Pathways team (In2Uni), Early Start, the School of Education and teachers from three Illawarra schools.

Martha Johnson from Early Start Discovery Space says the initiative serves a dual purpose for both educators and the children.

“The teachers get a chance to engage in professional development, see the stories in action with the online tool, and use it within the classroom utilising the booklet created by the In2Uni team which supplements the learning.

“The idea is, once the children have completed both the online and practical component of work, they can then come to the Discovery Space as a subsidised excursion option.

“All the characters are based on occupations that can be found in the Discovery Space, so when they come here, there is an element of familiarity. We’ve created different activities for the children to undertake with the teacher leading them through,” Martha says.

She explains one of the goals was to disrupt traditional gender roles.

“The intention was to avoid stereotypes so that children can realise they can be anything they want to be – it doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are or what gender you are,” she affirms.

Jessica the Engineer is one of the characters profiled in the stories. The children are encouraged to engage in classroom dialogue about her skills and potential jobs known as “critter discussion” – inspired by the UOW Early Start Discovery Space mascots, Cloud and Burst, who represent the two sides of a creative idea; imagination and action.

They can then visit the construction site at the Discovery Space and experience how Jessica might use her skills; such as measuring the perimeter of the house or working out how many bricks it takes to build a wall.

Other careers showcased through the digital stories include Mason the Nurse, Omar the Actor, Ling the Archaeologist and Kirra the Entrepreneur.

The Go Big! program has been designed to link with NSW curriculum outcomes and has already been showcased to some of UOW’s In2Uni partner schools.

James Terry from In2Uni says the Outreach and Pathways team and Early Start have been facilitating professional development days for schools in Campbelltown and the Illawarra.

“We talk about our In2Uni program, our ethos and how we work with students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. We are working in the aspirational and attainment space, making students aware of higher education and the various pathways that are available for them.”

James says the professional development days are designed to step teachers through the classroom unit of work, explain the online and printed resources and highlight how the learning can be brought to life during an excursion to the Discovery Space.

“The teachers are initially quite taken aback by the university engaging with a Year 2 student audience, but then they start to understand the objectives of our programs. It’s increasing that awareness and that aspirational component of the students and knowing where they want to go. It’s enabling those dreams and passions and those skills they have – that’s the lightbulb moment for teachers and they love the resources too,” he adds.

James says a lot of focus and dedication went into the story and character development with the animation of the stories, which were brought to life by the Learning, Teaching and Curriculum digital team.

“There was an immense amount of work that went into the character development, the demographics, the character identities, their ethnicity, their backgrounds and the diversity, which really shines through in the characters.

“It’s important for those kids to recognise subconsciously “oh that student is from a similar background to me - if they can do it, I can do it,” he says “they can identify the similarities in their goals and aspirations.”

The professional development days have delivered some positive results with two Campbelltown schools already booking a visit to the Discovery Space.

It is anticipated the Go Big! program will become part of the regular suite of In2Uni Programs offered across the continuum of programs.

Watch the digital stories

For more information about the Go Big! digital stories series and resources, contact the In2Uni team via in-2-uni@uow.edu.au