Strengthening Engagement and Achievement in Mathematics and Science
SEAMS aims to increase the participation and attainment of LSES and Indigenous students in science and mathematics related disciplines in higher education. The program targets two cohorts: Indigenous students in early secondary school and LSES and Indigenous students in senior secondary school. SEAMS engages students in challenging maths and science experiences through residential camps and online activities to encourage engagement and achievement, boosting students’ access to a range of university courses.
- Monash University
- University of Melbourne
- John Monash Science School
- Elizabeth Blackburn Science School.
SEAMS aims to address a significant and persistent disparity by increasing the participation and attainment of LSES and Indigenous students in tertiary study involving mathematics and science. SEAMS is not an aspiration-building intervention; it is about improving student engagement and achievement through strategically tailored curricula, teaching and learning.
The Indigenous Early Years component of SEAMS involves Indigenous students in challenging and engaging mathematics and science in a culturally supportive environment, with the aim of encouraging these students to pursue mathematics and science to senior secondary level and into tertiary level.
The Senior Secondary Program focuses on ‘front-loading’ LSES and Indigenous students’ learning in core curricular areas in maths and science to increase their achievement in these fields and so increase their choices for university study.
SEAMS is an on-campus residential program held twice each year for both target groups. Senior SEAMS camps involve three days of mathematics and science classes, mixed with social and recreational events, while the Indigenous Early Years camps are held over two days. Students stay on campus at either Monash University or the University of Melbourne, living in the student accommodation and becoming familiar with the campus layout, sporting and recreational facilities.
The learning activities draw on well-established educational principles. Sessions are designed to increase students’ confidence and skill through preparing them in advance for learning experiences, rather than using a remedial model. Sessions are led by highly experienced secondary school teachers, assisted by university students as tutors and mentors. The opportunity to undertake laboratory work in a from small and often under-resourced schools.
SEAMS creates a cohort of motivated learners who may otherwise be isolated in their mathematics and science study. Students stay in touch and continue engaging with the program through an online learning site and through Facebook. Peer learning is strongly encouraged and supported through the online site, and informally through friendships.
The initial SEAMS cohort in January 2014 included 114 Year 11 and 12 students, including students from 28 LSES metropolitan and regional schools. The Indigenous Early Years program attracted 27 Year 8 and 9 students from 13 schools.
Evaluation to date indicate that SEAMS is on track to influence student outcomes in mathematics and science, with a consequent effect on university enrolments. Students reported increased confidence, knowledge and skills after participating in SEAMS camps:
- 96 per cent of Year 12 SEAMS participants agreed that they felt more confident about tackling mathematics at school after completing the camp.
- 92 per cent agreed that their mathematics knowledge had improved.
- 85 per cent agreed that SEAMS had improved their science skills.
- Of the Indigenous Early Years cohort, 65 per cent felt more confident about maths and science at school, and 75 per cent enjoyed being part of a group dedicated to learning.
Students will be tracked through the program to measure its longer-term impact.
The success of SEAMS is underpinned by strong senior commitment, a clear shared purpose, open communication and strong project management.
The partnership between Monash University and the University of Melbourne affirms the importance of collaboration on widening participation, even between traditional competitors in student recruitment. The program was initiated following discussions between senior leaders at both institutions about their concerns that current outreach programs were not addressing mathematics and science effectively, particularly for Indigenous students.
“Had a great time, in addition to meeting great likeminded people, I learnt a lot and feel a lot more confident about my studies.” – student.
As leading research universities with strong profiles in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, ensuring a diverse student body in these disciplines is a shared concern. The partners share a commitment to supporting students to achieve their potential, and to ensuring that students from Indigenous and less-privileged backgrounds have access to the same opportunities as other students.
Both universities also sought the involvement of specialist science school partners – John Monash Science School and Elizabeth Blackburn Science School. The schools provided valuable advice on curriculum as well as nominating teachers to be involved in the delivery of the program.
The development and delivery of SEAMS involves extensive communication and collaboration within the universities: between Access Monash and the University of Melbourne’s Office for Student Equity; Monash’s Yulendj Indigenous Engagement Unit and Melbourne’s Murrup Barak Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development; as well as with faculties, residential colleges and student services providers.
SEAMS is managed by a project manager based at Monash University, and overseen by a joint steering committee representing all partners. The project team reviews each activity and incorporates improvements based on student feedback.
SEAMS will expand in 2015 to include 200 students at senior years, and 40 students for the Indigenous Early Years component. The program will seek to involve more schools, and to maintain a balance of regional and metropolitan students.
The aim is for SEAMS to develop as a sustainable, high-impact program. In 2015, the senior years camps will focus more closely on chemistry and mathematics as key prerequisites to many university courses in scientific and health fields. Funding options beyond the initial HEPPP grant period are being explored. An ongoing priority for SEAMS is to increase recognition and participation from Indigenous students across Victoria, building on the positive experiences of the first cohort.
“Thank you for this great experience and an opportunity to get to know the university.” – student.
This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.