Making links and developing resources


Otago Polytechnic's Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project (STPP) team is developing resources for teaching maths and science within an engineering context, while building links with schools and industry.

Teaching Maths, Science and Technology in an engineering context

The team is working with secondary school teachers on a research project aimed at teaching Maths, Science and Technology in an engineering context. They have completed a literature review into topics likely to excite student interest in STEM-related learning; this will be released soon.

Pilot Calculus lesson

Engineering Programmes Advisor John Findlay says it was tricky finding ideas that interest students and also relate to engineering-relevant NCEA Achievement Standards. However, they did come up with six topics and trialled the first in Term 2. The STPP team ran the pilot lesson with Year 13 Calculus students from Kaikorai Valley High School. It involved a practical demonstration of conics (the maths around ratio changes as sand flows out of a cone) to give students practical insight into applications of calculus. “The students were really interested,” John says, “and we could show them other aspects of engineering also.”

Once piloted and tweaked, all the resources will be freely available for other schools throughout the country to use. “We want this to be sustainable; a system that everyone uses and adds to, so that it doesn’t have to be done as a funded project again.”

Planned Geometry and Algebra pilots

Fitting in with school timetables has been a challenge, and a proposed Year 12 Algebra pilot lesson at Otago Boys’ High School has been postponed until 2018. This lesson and others will now run in 2018 and be better matched timewise to the school timetables and teaching schedule.

One resulting benefit, says John, is that both parties recognise the need to include the partnership teaching in longer term planning.  “Which ensures long-term take up of the project.”

Another pilot will be delivered in Term 4. Year 11 Maths students at Otago Boys’ will learn about geometry using survey instruments to accurately measure and calculate angles.

“Teachers at Otago Boys’ are open to cross-curricular, project-based study,” John says, “so we could use a Physics topic to deliver maths concepts. This could be a good way to reach those students who don’t want to take a full maths or physics course.”

Developing relationships with schools and industry

Building industry links is important to the programme – students are more likely to consider engineering as a career when they see what’s going on in their own region, and knowing that there are local jobs for graduates is a good selling point for the qualifications.

Employers, in turn, are happy to be involved in inspiring more students into engineering because many need more graduates than are currently available. Representatives from four Dunedin companies – Milmeq, Fisher & Paykel Appliances, Scott Technology and Beca – attended the recent Engineering Technologies Information Day. A senior employee from each firm was accompanied by a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) or Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) graduate. The eight speakers discussed their career pathways, graduate opportunities at their workplace and the importance of communication skills and attitude.

Engineering Technologies Information Day

The Year 12-13 students who attended the Engineering Technologies Information Day were interested to learn about the pathways into engineering. Although the number of attendees was much lower than hoped for, the team was pleased that the group of eight students included two girls and two Pasifika students.

Four engineering students accompanied the group and chatted about their experiences on the NZDE or BEngTech courses. They visited the Civil and Mechanical Engineering laboratories, listened to the industry presentations and then headed off to the Forsyth Barr Stadium for lunch and a tour of the facility. The students walked along the gantry at the top of the stadium (challenging for some!), saw one of the electrical power supply rooms and walked around the field to see the slide joint which will allow the building to move during an earthquake. The day concluded with a tour of the Otago Polytechnic hostel construction site.

Extending the event in 2018

The team will repeat the Engineering Technologies Information Day in 2018, and is planning another one for Central Otago students, teachers and careers advisors. John says schools and employers are very supportive of the proposed event.

Promoting STEM-related competitions to raise awareness of engineering careers

Otago Polytechnic is hosting this year’s RoboCup national finals, during which they will show competitors and parents around the labs and discuss the NZDE and BEngTech. “We want to make the link between the robots they’re building and industrial robots. It’s a good opportunity to talk to parents who assume their children will go to university”. A group of local engineering employers will attend to display information about their companies and talk about opportunities for engineering graduates.

Students at Otago Boys’ High School are developing drones as part of a pilot competition, with support from the STPP team. John hopes to include other schools next year and hold a regional competition.

Planning for 2018

The team is looking at how they could deliver a Year 13 course similar to the one running at WITT – students in that programme can gain credits towards the NZDE programme and NCEA credits.
See case study: Promoting the local option

Our thanks to John for his time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

Photos: Students attending Engineering Technologies Information Day –  Forsyth Barr Stadium, Otago Polytechnic lab, listening to employers.