Under the microscope
Meet Earth science educator Greg McNamara as he prepares to select and train the Earth and Environmental Science Olympiad team.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a geologist with a passionate interest in education and life-long learning. I have taught geoscience at James Cook University, helped set up and run the North Queensland Science Education Centre for CSIRO and run outreach and education activities for the university.
In Broken Hill I managed the GeoCentre, an interactive mineral museum, and helped produce the new edition of the Minerals of Broken Hill book. In Canberra, Geoscience Australia appointed me to set up and run their geoscience education centre and ultimately manage their education and outreach activities.
In my spare time I like to read science fiction, renovate old houses, restore old cars and help my wife build and maintain garden landscapes full of unusual and interesting plants. I especially like Australian native orchids. I own a 1958 FC Holden station wagon (currently in bits for restoration) and love tinkering with other old machinery and electromechanical devices. I not only like reading science fiction but like trying to write it too! I have not published anything yet but keep plugging away at it. I guess you could say I like the challenge.
My latest challenge outside of organising the Australian Earth and Environmental Science Olympiad is training a new Border Collie puppy to be a good dog! She too is learning things but mostly how to manage her humans.
What drew you to the Earth and Environmental Science Olympiad Competition? Why is it important?
The Earth and Environmental Science Olympiad Competition is something I have always been keen to see happen, especially since the International Earth Science Olympiad became a reality seven years ago.
My other education activities also led me to be involved in reviewing and commenting on the development of the Earth and Environmental Science curriculum for senior school.
Once a national curriculum document became a reality for the Earth and Environmental Science subject area it seemed only logical that this ‘fourth science’ – along with Biology, Chemistry and Physics – be represented at the international level by a team of Australian students.
The fact that we now have the opportunity to do just that is fantastic and I did not hesitate when the opportunity to be involved came along.
You could be forgiven for thinking I am biased (I am) but I see an Australian Earth and Environmental Science Olympiad competition as important, not only because the subject should be and can be on an equal footing with the other sciences, but because I have no doubt that Australian students can and do excel in this subject area and deserve an opportunity to be both rewarded and encouraged by this brilliant program.
What are you most looking forward to as program director?
The task of program director looks quite daunting but is the type of challenge I like to take on. However, I am really looking forward to the summer school where I will get to meet the students personally – the scientists of the future – and play a small part in helping engage them in the journey of discovery that may not only help them decide on a career in science, dare I say even Earth science, but also see them make friends for life with their peers and really enjoy themselves along the way.
What type of student do you hope will get involved?
The students I most want to see involved are those who are passionately interested in learning, discovery and problem solving. Earth and Environmental Science is a very holistic subject that embraces many aspects of the other mainstream sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) and many other subject areas as well (mathematics, computer science, ecology and astronomy to name a few).
This means any student with an interest in science and an enthusiasm for learning new and interesting things can and should have a go.
Why should teachers encourage their students to take part?
Teachers are often more influential in the lives and future careers of their students than they give themselves credit for. Almost everyone I know who is passionate about their area of expertise and the career pathway they have followed cite at least one influential teacher amongst those people most important in getting them into the subject in the first place. This is partly because even those students who are exceptionally passionate about their studies are not always in a good position to see where that passion can lead them.
Often a tap on the shoulder from a teacher is all it takes. Students admire and respect their teachers, often more than they will ever let on, and a word from their teacher encouraging them to take part in the Australian Olympiad competitions is an immense vote of confidence in the student’s abilities that carries a weight most parents could only wish for.
Students who do take on the Australian Olympiad competitions not only have an opportunity to focus on deeper levels of learning and problem solving but also experience real challenges that can test their skills, expand their horizons and introduce them to many like-minded peers with whom they can develop friendships and professional connections that will last a life time.
For many students who are looking for extension work from their teachers this is an ideal way for teachers to not only encourage those students but to also set them on the path to an amazing future.