Celebrating Indigenous cultures through STEM and virtual reality

At Tulliallan Primary School in Melbourne, teachers and students have been working with local Indigenous groups to create an immersive Acknowledgement of Country. In today’s reader submission, STEM teacher Nick Pattison shares the story from different perspectives.

I would like to share with you a story of learning, and in the spirit of acknowledgment and recognition I hope to share this story from multiple perspectives.

The oldest living civilisation

Our story starts between 40 000 and 60 000 years ago, when the original inhabitants of Australia first called Victoria home. Fast forward to today with an increasing number of non-Indigenous Australians hoping to pay respect and better understand the oldest living civilisation in human history, the Aboriginals of Australia.

In order to support schools and their reconciliation with local Indigenous communities, the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) published the Marrung, Aboriginal Education Plan for 2016-26 that sets the following vision: ‘Victoria will be a state where the rich and thriving culture, knowledge and experience of our First Nations peoples are celebrated by all Victorians ...’

Following this framework, our school participated in CUST (Cultural Understanding and Safety Training) – a professional development and reflection session with the DET’s Koorie Education Team. From here, our school staff identified the opportunity (and need) to further recognise and celebrate Indigenous culture within our school.

A message from Principal Kathy Sharp

After our CUST professional learning session in 2019, we created an action plan that involved a commitment to ensuring that our students would have a better understanding of our First People. It is a credit to teachers Nick Pattison and Lauren Sutherland, who have integrated Indigenous understandings through Problem-Based Learning in STEM. At Tulliallan Primary School we are incredibly proud of our students and staff.

Following our Koorie Education PD, we gathered a group of four students to lead the creation of a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). Students began this process by contacting our local Indigneous groups, where a desire to share relevant art pieces and flags was apparent, along with a more meaningful Acknowledgement of Country.

At this point our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) teachers, who were involved with the student RAP group, recognised the opportunity to use a STEM teaching approach, as well as place-based learning, to connect with our local Indigenous groups. This was based on insights from Australian research done by Professor Elizabeth McKinley at the University of Melbourne, culturally responsive pedagogy research from New Zealand (Glynn, 2015), as well as the strong body of evidence that collaborating with external organisations on authentic STEM issues provides rich learning experiences (Australian Industry Group, 2017; Traill et al, 2015; Timms et al, 2018).

At the time, the students were learning with virtual reality in STEM and they suggested a VR acknowledgement, which was discussed and agreed to by one of the Indigenous groups – Wurundjeri of inner Melbourne. The students and staff then created an acknowledgement, based on the specific environment of the school – land, water, animals and stars. A short video was developed using 360 degree images for a more immersive experience, which our school now hopes to create in VR.

Regardless of the technology used, visualising the essence of the acknowledgment is a powerful tool for better understanding the purpose.

Year 4 students Marie and Sienna

Hello, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Sienna and I've written this section with another Year 4 student, Marie. We would like to share with you our experience of a project we recently did at our school. This project started in Term 3 during the COVID lockdown periods. As children of essential workers we still went to school.

One day our STEM teachers, Mr Pattison and Miss Sutherland, asked if we would like to do a special project and we said yes because we wanted to try something new. The project was to create an acknowledgement of the country with Wurundjeri, one of the original local inhabitants of our area (Bunurong being the other), and to help other schools understand more about the essence and purpose of an acknowledgement.

We started by creating a simple video prototype of an acknowledgement that we shared with Wurundjeri to test it and get feedback. We wanted to help other schools around Australia and the whole world to understand more about the acknowledgement of the country and the role of Wurundjeri within Melbourne, past, present and emerging. We hoped this project would help people to learn about Indigenous cultures.

At first we were scared and shy, but our STEM teachers kept on encouraging us and we were able to finish our acknowledgement. We were very nervous because we didn’t know anything about Wurundjeri or very much about Australian Indigenous cultures, other than the weekly acknowledgement of the country at assembly. We are so happy that we could share our acknowledgement.

We did this acknowledgement because if you give a little kid a book they would get distracted easily and not pay attention, but if it was on a video it's more exciting to watch and they might actually pay attention to it. We also changed some words so that younger people could understand what we are talking about.

The project was just a prototype. We believe our prototype worked and now we hope to work with Wurundjeri youth/elders to create 360 degree and virtual reality versions. We have learnt a lot more about Wurundjeri and the reason we do acknowledgements of the country and now we hope to learn more about the history and cultural practices of our Indigenous communities. We are grateful for this project and want to thank Wurundjeri and our STEM teachers for the opportunity.

A message from Nick Pattison and Lauren Sutherland

As STEM teachers, we felt it was important to show how a STEM mindset with project-based learning (PBL) can be used to make the community a better place. We designed our primary STEM program on the belief that kindness and empathy are key to any meaningful project, and we wanted to show how this approach can be applied to an authentic problem.

We are ecstatic with the outcome of this project because we were able to apply technology in a relevant way. We have been able to build a better relationship with Wurundjeri, as well as provide our students with the opportunity to better understand and connect with the people and elements of our local land. Ultimately, the relationships between our students, staff and community are the core feature of an excellent education experience and we believe that this project showcases how technology can support and enhance relationships.

Our next steps are to work with several other schools to create their own version. We’ve also submitted an abstract to the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE), where we hope our students can share their journey.


Australian Industry Group. (2017). Strengthening School-Industry STEM Skills Partnerships. Melbourne, Australia: Office of the Chief Scientist. https://www.aigroup.com.au/policy-and-research/mediacentre/releases/STEM-Report-15June

Glynn, T. (2015). Bicultural challenges for educational professionals in Aotearoa. Waikato

Journal of Education, 20th Anniversary Collection, 103–113. https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9801

Timms, M. J., Moyle, K., Weldon, P. R., & Mitchell, P. (2018). Challenges in STEM learning in Australian schools: Literature and policy review. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). https://research.acer.edu.au/policy_analysis_misc/28

Traill, S. & Traphagen, K., with Devaney, E. (2015). Assessing the Impacts of STEM Learning Ecosystems: Logic Model Template and Recommendations for Next Steps. Noyce Foundation.

How do you recognise and celebrate Indigenous culture within your school community?

How could you improve your connections with local Indigenous groups?

Think about a unit of work you’re planning next year. Could you collaborate with external organisations to provide students with rich and authentic learning experiences?