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iSTEM Stage 5

What is iSTEM?

Integrated STEM also known as iSTEM is a student-centered elective for students in Years 9 and 10 that delivers Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in an innovative and integrated way.

iSTEM was what is known as a School Developed Board Endorsed Course (SDBEC) which had been approved by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) and formed part of a student’s academic record in NSW. Incorporating mechatronics, artificial intelligence, PBL, cybersecurity, engineering, 3D CAD/CAM, aerospace,  and motion modules, iSTEM presents maths and sciences to students in ways that challenge not only their understanding of these key subjects but also their ability to manage projects and work in teams.

iSTEM was developed in the Hunter Region in direct response to industry’s urgent demand for young people qualified in science, technology, engineering, and maths.

Initially taught in 7 leading hunter region high schools, the iSTEM course has been so successful that in 2020 it has been endorsed for use in 317 schools across NSW. Since its inception in 2013 the number of schools endorsed has approximately doubled each year and the number of female students enrolled continues to be greater than other traditional male-dominated elective subjects offered in NSW schools.

This elective subject provides students with curriculum to support the most up to date technologies including 3D printers, virtual reality, drones, robotics and a range of intelligent systems. It engages students in problem-based and project based learning and involves them in real-world learning.

History of iSTEM

In 2013 version 1 of the iSTEM curriculum was developed by NSW Department of Education through Maitland Grossmann High School in partnership with local Industry, led by Dr. Scott Sleap. Its original production was supported through a ME Program grant from Regional Development Australia - Hunter. The original iSTEM syllabus was updated in subsequent years and versions 2 and 3 were developed by Dr. Sleap whilst he was the ME Program Director for Regional Development Australia - Hunter. The current version 3.5 again was developed by Dr Scott Sleap whilst working for the NSW Department of Education's STEM Industry School Partnerships (SISP) program. 

In 2020, the NSW Department of Education through its STEM Industry School Partnerships (SISP) program has been developing version 4 with extensive assistance from SISP program partners and Maitland Grossmann High School.

Important Updates

NESA announced changes to the school developed board endorsed course (SDBEC) program in an official notice on 25 January 2021. NESA Official Notice 3/21

The key changes are:

Stage 5 SDBECs will no longer be endorsed by NESA, except for courses in languages for which there is no Board Developed Course (such as Auslan, or a community language) or braille.

Stage 5 and Stage 6 SDBECs with no student entries recorded in 2020 or expired in 2020 have been discontinued.

Existing Stage 5 SDBECs will be discontinued at the end of their endorsement period or at the end of 2022, whichever occurs first.

Existing Stage 6 SDBECs selected by students for the HSC will continue in 2021 and 2022.

Stage 6 SDBEC proposals will be subject to new endorsement criteria from 2021.

As a result:

Courses that have endorsement and are completed (100 hours or 200 hours) in 2021 or 2022 will be credentialed whenever the student gets the credential.

Schools will need to enter the student (even if they are in Year 9) while they still have endorsement, and not thereafter.

Schools should be aware that commencing a 200 hour SDBEC in 2022 will enable only the first 100 hours to be credentialed.

Changes to Stage 5 electives in 2022

Stage 5 elective course offerings are changing from Term 1 2022 following changes to School Developed Board Endorsed Courses (SDBECs) and require schools to start planning now.

From Term 1 2022:

  • students continue to undertake 400 hours of elective courses in Stage 5
  • at least 200 of these hours must be Board Developed Courses, Content Endorsed Courses or VET Board Endorsed Courses which are credentialled on the RoSA
  • the remaining 200 hours of the mandatory 400 hours are either Board Developed Courses, Content Endorsed Courses, VET Board Endorsed Courses or NSW Department of Education approved elective courses.

The department will offer seven approved elective courses drawn from school developed courses which have both high enrolment rates and strong links to industry and higher education pathways:

  • Big history
  • Critical thinking
  • International studies
  • iSTEM
  • Outdoor education
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology

The seven department approved elective courses will provide a high benchmark for quality curriculum with the flexibility to meet the needs of students where they are at with their learning consistent with local community expectation.

Information about the NSW Department of Education approved elective courses will be available on the Curriculum Reform website shortly.

For further advice, contact the secondary curriculum team at

iSTEM Sample Resources Page

The the iSTEM sample resources page has been designed to support the different modules that make up the Stage 5 iSTEM course which is a NSW Department of Education approved elective course. The resources include units of work, portfolio's, programs, sample activities and links to other support sites.

Link to Page


Key elements of stage 5 iSTEM

Integrated approach to teaching previous silos of STEM;

Use of project and problem based learning as well as enquiry based learning strategies;

Emphasis on enterprise skills such as; complex problem solving, teamwork, communication, negotiation, and creativity;

More connected real-world learning, including industry contextualisation;

Team teaching and flipped classroom approaches to teaching and learning

Important iSTEM documents

Current iSTEM Syllabus Document (Version 3.5) Download

Sample Year 9 iSTEM Program (Version 3) Download

Sample Year 9 iSTEM Program (Version 1) Download

Sample Year 10 iSTEM Program (Version 1) Download

Sample Elective Information Booklet  (Comming Soon)

Sample 'Invitation to Elect iSTEM' Letter Download

iTeachSTEM resources for iSTEM Link

Department of Education STEM Website

iSTEM Promo Video - Students

iSTEM is a NSW Department of Education high school elective course in Year 9 and 10 that combines Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics skills. Students learn about aerodynamics, motion, robotics, mechatronics, 3D design and 3D Printing and gives students the skills they will need for our future.

iSTEM Promo Video

A futuristic look at the career possibilities open to students who study STEM. iSTEM is a NSW Department of Education high school elective course in Year 9 and 10 that combines Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics skills. Students learn about aerodynamics, motion, robotics, mechatronics, 3D design and 3D Printing and gives students the skills they will need for our future.

Implementing iSTEM

Video produced by the NSW Department of Education at Maitland Grossmann High School. It describes what is iSTEM and how it is implemented at the school. Interviews with Dr Scott Sleap STEM Coordinator (Previous Position), Dr Di Soltau, Principal Maitland Grossmann High School and Robert Weatherall and Grace Ahrens Year 9 iSTEM students in 2016.