Culturally relevant STEM teaching

Education researchers and teachers are working together to explore strategies to boost Indigenous student achievement in STEM subjects.

Liz McKinley, Professor Indigenous Education in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, says teachers need support from the whole school system to develop culturally responsive pedagogies.

The academic is one of the presenters at Research Conference 2016 – hosted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). This year's theme is ‘Improving STEM Learning: What will it take?'

Speaking ahead of the Brisbane event, which runs from 7-9 August, Professor McKinley told Research Developments achievement gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students ‘continue to be documented across the globe'.

‘Researchers, in conjunction with STEM teachers, have attempted to resolve the questions on Indigenous students' engagement and achievement in STEM through specific contexts with consideration given to the local sociocultural and socio-political backgrounds,' she said.

‘Attempts to engage non-Western students into the subculture of STEM is challenging for STEM teachers. The school system should actively support teachers to build a cultural perspective on teaching STEM and involving the community in helping to create a collaborative learning environment.'

Analysis of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test results for 15-year-olds – focusing on mathematical, scientific and reading literacy – shows Indigenous students are roughly two-and-a-half-years behind their non-Indigenous peers in schooling, and the gap hasn't changed for a decade (Dreise and Thomson, 2014).

At the conference, McKinley will be sharing examples of recent research exploring Indigenous student engagement and achievement in STEM disciplines, and studies on culturally responsive teaching practices.

Read the full article – Stemming the flow: Reversing low STEM achievement, published in ACER's Research Developments.

One of the keynote speakers at Research Conference 2016 is Professor Tim Bell from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Click on the link for a special episode of The Research Files, where we speak to the academic about his Computer Science Unplugged project and his keynote, titled What's all the fuss about coding?


Dreise, T. & Thomson, S. (2014). Unfinished business: PISA shows Indigenous youth are being left behind. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research.

The Teacher team will be posting live updates throughout the conference via Twitter.

Research Conference 2016, 'Improving STEM Learning: What will it take?' takes place from 7-9 August at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. To register and for program details, visit

Teacher will be exploring the theme of STEM and STEAM throughout August. Stay tuned for more articles, podcasts, infographics and videos.