STEM enrolments hit 20-year low, but scientists have an idea to stop the slide

Australian students are turning away from science at alarming rates, and if we do not arrest the slide now, we may be unable to provide the skills a future workforce desperately needs, a new Federal Government report has found.

The National Scientific Statement, released last week, found participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in Australian schools was declining, with enrolments in these subjects at the lowest level in 20 years.

It also reported that performance in these STEM subjects had slipped and if the decline continued, "Australia may be unable to supply the skills required for the future workforce".

Fighting against this tide is a group of scientists who believe that making science fun, engaging and maybe even a little dangerous is the way to get young students on board.

"Teaching and testing science as a series of facts to be memorised ... is likely putting students off," astrophysicist Alan Duffy said.

"In my experience, kids are already excited by science as they are naturally curious about the world around them.

"What they don't like is being taught to rote-learn facts."

Media player: "Space" to play, "M" to mute, "left" and "right" to seek.

Dr Duffy has teamed up with documentary maker and science enthusiast Todd Sampson to create a new TV series, Life On The Line, which explores the rules of physics with a daredevil twist.

Sampson slides through fire, swings a one-tonne wrecking ball towards his face, and stands at point blank range in front of an AK-47 under water for the show.

He told ABC News Breakfast that he wanted to mix information with entertainment.

"I wanted to be able to communicate the science, but I wanted people to watch for the whole 30 minutes," he said.

"So to make it entertaining and hopefully impactful, we had to push it a little bit.

"In this kind of quasi, post-fact world we live in I think anything that pushes science is good."

American theoretical physicist, Professor Brian Greene, is currently in the country and is singing from the same song sheet as he tours his new stage show, A Time Traveller's Tale.

The show touches on astronomy and physics with the aim of engaging a broad audience.

"For so many kids, science is just what you learn in the classroom and that just kind of makes your head hurt," he said.

"This is something that can be a full body experience, where you get excited about the deep, wondrous ideas."

There is no quick fix, teacher says

Educator Sarah Chapman is at the forefront of this push to get kids excited by science.

She is head of the science department at Townsville State High School and received the Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools in 2013.

"There is no quick fix or one-size-fits-all approach to improving STEM achievement," Ms Chapman told ABC News Breakfast.

"I think achievement and engagement go hand in hand."

Ms Chapman agrees with Dr Duffy that giving kids a hands-on approach will go a long way to improving engagement and ensuring a new generation takes up the scientific challenge.

"Science is experiential. It is a way of doing and thinking," she said.

"So learning it should be reflected in the same way.

"You can talk about the concept of elasticity, for example, but to explore the concept simply by investigating what happens when you stretch and release lolly snakes makes the concept come alive."

Ms Chapman will launch a new research report she compiled as the Barbara Cail International STEM Fellow at an event in Sydney today.

It looks directly at how to engage young people in STEM and finds that getting all sectors — government, education and STEM groups — to connect with one another is crucial.

"For when it comes to engaging our future generations in STEM, we are stronger together," she said.