Brett Crawford’s efforts at Warrigal Road State School in Brisbane have seen all the school’s 50-plus teachers now actively teach science in their classes and it has won him the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.
Warrigal Road is a large primary school in Brisbane with more than 1300 students. The students are from 54 cultures, English is a second language for 60 per cent of them, and there’s also a cohort of hearing-impaired children.
The local high schools have recognised that Warrigal Road students come to them curious about the world and ready for secondary science. Test results back that up, showing the school’s science performance is well above national averages.
Crawford is the lead science teacher at the school. He believes that science teaching in primary schools is easy. Primary school students are curious about the world. You can engage them with simple, inexpensive experiments.
But he also knows that many primary school teachers are anxious about teaching science. So, at Warrigal Road he lead a program in which he spent two days every week mentoring his fellow teachers. The results speak for themselves and other schools are now picking up his ideas and programs.
“Primary school teachers can be scared of science if they haven’t had a good science experience themselves in primary school,” Crawford says. “So we show them how to frame a scientific inquiry that the students and the teachers can use, and I go into the classroom and demonstrate how to do a science lesson.”
He starts with the idea that science is the easiest subject to get a student interested in.
“Kids have the two basic qualities you need for good science: they want to know everything about the world, and they want to play with really good toys.”
He emphasises that those toys don’t need to be expensive.
“I can teach a science lesson on a $10 budget and have students understand things about chemistry. I can teach students why cyclones spin with a Lazy Susan and a glue stick.”
His methods are also spreading beyond Warrigal Road. He has developed connections with Griffith University, CSIRO and local businesses, and works with teachers from neighbouring primary schools to pass on what he has learned.
“One of the things I'm most proud of is when teachers from the local high schools come to us and ask for ideas on how to teach science to their students,” Brett says.
At the root of all of Crawford's work, either in the classroom or as his online character ‘Professor Zaccheus’, is the simple joy he takes in sharing science with his students.
“I like the experiments you can do with the simplest things and get the biggest wow factor: you can teach students about the density of gases by getting a soap bubble to float in mid-air and their eyes light up because suddenly they’re seeing something they didn't believe was possible. Then you explain to them that it’s not magic: it’s science,”
Dr Scott Sleap
Dr Scott Sleap received the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. Scott is Deputy Principal, STEM, for the Cessnock Learning Community.
Cessnock in New South Wales is becoming a centre for aerospace, nearby Williamtown is already a maintenance base for Australia’s F/A-18 fighters and will be a maintenance hub for the Joint Strike Fighter in the Asia-Pacific.
The problem is that many of Cessnock’s students don’t believe that the new high tech jobs are for them. Dr Scott Sleap is opening their eyes and showing them that they can participate in the new economy. He’s done that by creating the Cessnock Academy of STEM Excellence, a partnership between Cessnock High School, its feeder primary schools, and local industry.
Students struggling with numeracy are catching up with the help of robotics. A team of Indigenous girls are making and racing model F1 cars, mentored by Boeing engineers. And the number of students signing up for STEM subjects is growing. NSW Education is now rolling out similar programs in other regional centres.
At school, Sleap was told that a career in science or engineering wasn’t for him. He studied education instead, but after working as a teacher for a decade and a half he was drawn back to STEM.
So in 2013, while teaching Industrial Arts and undertaking a PhD in Engineering, he started working with Regional Development Australia – Hunter to build a curriculum model that integrates science, technology, engineering and mathematics and brings in ‘real-world’ industry perspectives. The model, called iSTEM, has since been adopted in more than 260 schools across NSW.
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