Professional development scholarships bring opportunities for regional educators
As part of Australian Science Innovation’s commitment in empowering STEM educators in regional and rural communities, three deserving teachers have been awarded scholarships to attend the STEM X Academy. This teacher professional learning program is run in partnership by Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA), CSIRO and Questacon.
Held in Canberra from 7-12 January 2018, it exposes teachers to working with scientists and researchers to undertake their own inquiry-based projects based on real-world science challenges and learn tools to foster inquiry-based learning approach back in their own classrooms.
We sat down with our passionate and dedicated teachers Susan Fahey (Denmark Senior High School, WA), Kerensa Greenfield (Kapunda High School, SA) and Trudy Spargo (Kyogle High School, NSW) to find out more about their STEM X experience.
1. What were your expectations before attending the academy?
Susan: I expected to meet a lot of other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teachers, share ideas, and also being introduced to strategies and resources that would help students to learn more effectively.
Kerensa: Teaching STEM is a natural fit for Science and Agriculture teachers, but I wanted to learn how to make my classes more engaging, relevant and exciting for my students. As a teacher of Mathematics, I was also looking to provide more practical links, to help students understand difficult or abstract concepts. I also looked forward to networking with other like-minded educators, as well as STEM professionals such as scientists and mathematicians. My expectations were that I would attend, have my mind filled to the brim with experiences, return home to write up a storm of classroom programs and buy materials, and then go to school buzzing with excitement.
Trudy: Having not had access to subject-based professional development for a number of years, I was just really looking forward to spending time with other people interested in STEM and developing my knowledge and skillset.
2. Can you tell us more about your favourite session?
S: The sessions at Questacon were my favourite. They were very hands-on and followed a sequence from short to longer activities and will be easily translatable to the classroom.
K: My favourite session overall at the STEM camp, was our first session with Questacon, doing the protostorming. I found this such an interesting way to engage students and have thought already of multiple ways I could use it in my own school. It was also pulling me straight out of my comfort zone immediately, which I enjoy generally!
T: There were so many highlights it’s difficult to just choose one! One session that really stood out to me though was the visit to Mt Stromlo Observatory. After an already full-on day, Dr Ben Greene and Dr Brad Tucker both dazzled us all with their knowledge, experience and generous spirits. I was also one of an honoured few who participated in a personal tour of the telescopic laser projects and dome by Dr Greene.
3. How did you benefit from the learning experience?
S: I feel like the approach I had been using previously had been validated and I have some more specific ideas about how to further develop the STEM program at my school and I have also established lots of networks with passionate STEM educators across the country.
K: I’ve gained a network of new friends, colleagues and professional contacts that I can hope to draw on for my teaching in the future. I’ve also attained new ideas for ‘old’ subjects and surprisingly for me, I found I could help others too. So, I came away from the camp with a bit of a self-esteem boost for my teaching, which was largely unexpected.
T: Not only did I find my teaching ‘spark’ that had been missing for a while, my teaching is forever changed! I no longer look at my programs and want to teach content, I facilitate experiences through which content is learned. If my students aren’t interested and engaged then I want to find ways to change what I’m doing to be more relevant and engaging.
4. How will this experience impact your future teaching in STEM?
S: I will be introducing more varied open ended projects focusing on real life issues.
K: Had I not been awarded a scholarship, I would not have had the funds to attend the conference without having to give up other professional development opportunities throughout the year or impact on my family’s finances. I am so grateful to have been able to attend, I am lucky to have met my fellow ASI scholarship holders, one of whom was in my group all week. I hope to keep in regular contact with them.
T: STEM teaching and learning is not just about expensive technology and coding (although drones and robots are very cool!). It is more about giving students the opportunity to solve problems creatively using a range of soft skills and resources, essentially preparing them to be better equipped for the real world. I also am very much enjoying the ongoing networking that is occurring with the alumni. I now see my previous programs through fresh eyes and am more able to integrate relevant and creative learning experiences into most lessons. I have already (happily) over extended my personal budget to stock my classroom supplies with makerspace and STEM resources – it’s really exciting to be giving students the opportunity to be active problem solvers as much as possible. I am hoping that my school will see the benefit and adopt a broader approach to STEM in the future.
5. What does this scholarship mean to you and other future STEM educators?
S: The scholarship enabled me to access this professional learning that I would not have been able to otherwise. For future STEM educators is professional learning experience that is practical, relevant and easy to apply the learning in various school contexts.
K: I would recommend to any teacher wanting to be challenged, excited, tested and enlightened, that they attend the STEM X Academy next year. Aim for the moon and you shall fall amongst the stars (and space junk)!
T: The scholarship really gave me such a confidence boost! I had come through a dark era in my career and had lost my ‘spark’. Just knowing that ASI thought highly enough of myself and my students to support me in this course even though we were from a rural area really meant so very much to me.
Image credit: Australian Science Teachers Association