The Switched On: UNE Indigenous STEM Program is a unique initiative which will embed Indigenous cultural and technological traditions into mathematics education. It is grounded in the notion that mathematics serves as a language for other STEM disciplines (Schmidt & Houang, 2007).A venn diagram showing the intersecting concepts of the program including the On-Campus, On-Line and On-Campus.

The project uses a staged developmental approach to research, design and pilot a program that provides opportunities for Indigenous years 7-9 high school students to engage positively with mathematics by using Indigenous cultural and technological traditions as a means to explore mathematical concepts.

The program will:

  1. Engage local high schools;
  2. Design an On-Campus university experience and On-Country experience; and
  3. Create On-Line resources to provide ongoing engagement and support.

View the 2017 Switched On STEM Day

Project Background

This project is grounded in the notion that an “ecocultural perspective on mathematics education” is beneficial for Indigenous students’ learning experiences (Owens,, 2011).

Through consultation with key stakeholders and the identification of curriculum areas best suited for inclusion in the program, UNE will develop a suite of activities that will embed Indigenous knowledge into mathematics education. The completed program (to be piloted as part of this project) will consist of:

  1. An On-Country experience for participants, allowing them to explore Indigenous cultural and technological traditions. This could include learning about technological inventions such as the boomerang, field trips to archaeological sites and nature reserves, exploring astronomical knowledge, or stories of sea-level rises (Nunn & Reid, 2016). These experiences would be supported by the expertise of local Aboriginal community members and Elders.
  2. An On-Campus experience (initially at the University of New England) where participants will explore mathematical concepts and models underpinning the topic of their On-Country experience.
  3. An On-Line component which reinforces students’ learning in the first two parts of the project and provides opportunities for ongoing skills development.

The program for Indigenous students will:

  1. make mathematics more accessible and appealing to students,
  2. lead to greater uptake of mathematics in years 11 and 12.
  3. show the pathway for students to enter courses in STEM disciplines at university
  4. increase the number of Indigenous graduates who will have the capacity to pursue science-based careers in the future.

Target Audience

20 prospective Indigenous students in year 1, with up to 40 participants at 2 “events” at UNE in subsequent years. The program and online content may serve as an example and resource for other institutions wishing to engage Indigenous high school students in mathematics education.

As UNE’s student catchment also includes the Mid-North coast and Northwest Slopes and Plains we hope to use examples which will be relevant for these areas and engage more Indigenous students.

Sustainability of Project

The following steps will contribute to the sustainability of the project outcomes:

  1. Creation of a network of organisations supporting the program: Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, high schools and UNE.
  2. The use of contextualised examples that are relevant to Indigenous students will lead to the development of a rich learning environment in mathematics in order to support students to choose advanced mathematics and science at the high school certificate level.
  3. This project will provide online materials which can be utilised to provide ongoing support to students and enhance current capabilities of teachers in rural and regional areas, who are often teaching out-of-field (Hobbs, 2013).
  4. Implementation of new digital learning technologies in order to facilitate the use of these materials in future classroom activities.
  5. Promotion of long-term innovation in the methods of educating new generations of Indigenous university students about maths, education and the incorporation of traditional knowledge in classroom activities
  6. Embedding the experiences gained through the implementation of this project, along with the best practice collected as a result of research into education policy-making and teaching practice.
  7. Adding the program to UNE’s Indigenous engagement strategy and processes.
  8. Informing the embedding of Indigenous knowledge into UNE undergraduate curricula for all students studying STEM subjects.

The project will result in the creation of a suite of learning modules, examples and online content that could be directly used by other institutions.


Evaluation of the effectiveness of the project be undertaken by:

  1. Surveying participating students, teachers and other stakeholders;
  2. Collaborating with participating high schools in measuring improvements in their students’ secondary mathematics studies and the number of participants who take up high level mathematics in years 11 and 12, compared to Indigenous students who did not participate.

Long term and more broadly, a measure of success will be the number of Indigenous graduates who have the capacity to pursue science-based careers. (Office of the Chief Scientist [OCS], 2013).


Hobbs, L. Int J of Sci and Math Educ (2013) 11: 271. doi:10.1007/s10763-012-9333-4.

Nunn, P & Reid, N. (2016). Aboriginal Memories of Inundation of the Australian Coast Dating from More than 7000 Years Ago. Australian Geographer Vol. 47, Iss. 1. DOI:10.1080/00049182.2015.1077539

Office of the Chief Scientist (2013). Science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the national interest: A strategic approach. Canberra: Australian Government.

Owens, K., Paraides, P., Jannok Nutti, Y. et al. Math Ed Res J (2011) 23: 253. DOI:10.1007/s13394-011-0014-3.

Schmidt, W. H., & Houang, R. T. (2007). Lack of focus in the mathematics curriculum: A symptom or a cause? In T. Loveless (Ed.), Lessons learned: What international assessments tell us about math achievement (pp. 65-84). Washington: Brookings Institution Press.


Guido Posthausen
Academic Coordinator
Oorala Aboriginal Centre

University of New England

Phone 02 67733439
Facsimile 02 67733379