A passion for the environment and education led a Deakin PhD alumnus from a career in marine biology in Mexico to developing innovative educational experiences in Melbourne.
Banksia Gardens Community Services in Broadmeadows is a vital hub for the local community, offering a variety of educational programs for all ages along with a community garden, playgroups, a social enterprise café and support for migrants and refugees.
This year, the centre will launch an innovative educational program to engage young people in STEM. Combining elements of physical theatre, narrative, virtual and augmented reality, the ‘Mystery Room’ is the brainchild of Deakin University PhD alumnus Edgar Caballero Aspe, in collaboration with Deakin’s School of Education and funded by an Impact100 Melbourne grant.
Mr Caballero Aspe began his career as a marine biologist in Mexico before an increasing interest in environmental education led him to Australia to undertake his doctorate in intercultural educative exchanges.
‘Over time, I developed a focus on transforming education into action and creating innovative educative experiences for young people from different countries and cultures,’ Mr Caballero Aspe said.
‘That led to wanting to connect with the digital learning environments and platforms that can help design and implement rich educational experiences.’
As Education and Youth Development Coordinator at Banksia Gardens, Mr Caballero Aspe runs the centre’s study group and holiday programs, which incorporate a range of activities supporting participants’ wellbeing. These include academic support for primary and secondary students, marine biology activities, creativity in movement with circus classes, physical theatre, storytelling, music creation and sports like rock climbing, AFL, soccer, martial arts and other recreational activities.
However, Mr Caballero Aspe was aware something was missing in the technology and STEM area after the closing of a computer space at Banksia Gardens.
‘We wanted to use technology for educational purposes, in a playful interactive way that lets the kids see and explore the possibilities,’ he said.
‘Our aim is to promote emotional engagement and imagination for real learning.’
The ‘Mystery Room’ is about establishing game-based learning theories and imaginative science education using puzzles and challenges to promote emotional engagement in a stimulating space that encourages the use of science process skills.
“The challenge is to define the needs of the participants and create the experiences, or moments of wonder, while incorporating science, technology, engineering and mathematics aspects into the problems to be solved.”
He described the mystery room concept as an educational ‘escape room’, and said newly developed research frameworks for such rooms already existed.
‘They call it “escapeED”, because you have to use problem solving and collaborative skills to get out. We don’t want to see our kids in need of escaping; instead they will solve mysteries. The framework will help to promote our participants’ skills to explore science processes and concepts while we design a series of experiences that will encourage visualisation, problem solving and positive attitudes towards science and creativity,’ Mr Caballero Aspe explained.
‘All this enables learning – the learning becomes real through the experience.’
The ‘Mystery Room’ project is a collaboration with researchers from Deakin’s Science Education team, including Dr George Aranda, Lecturer in Education (Science Education).
‘I’m developing a research project with Edgar and other colleagues from Deakin’s Science Education team, in conjunction with engineering students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, US, who will be helping Edgar with the design of the space,’ Dr Aranda said.
‘We’re also aiming to involve Science Education students from Deakin’s Master of Teaching course, to help design and test resources that can be used in the mystery room and will be running workshops in the upcoming school holidays to ask the children themselves what they would like to see in the space.’
Dr Aranda said the mystery room was an interesting project and unique idea.
‘This is informal learning outside the classroom, rather than teaching to a curriculum. The kids don’t have to be there, so the program has to be engaging in order to keep them coming back and being involved,’ he said.
‘It’s an important project for Deakin, as it asks us to reflect on how we get can get educators to provide learning experiences within flexible learning environments, that incorporate digital and non-digital elements, where students can explore problems in creative and engaging ways.’
Published by Deakin Research on 19 March 2018