We are updating our site. A new site will be here shortly.


SCIENTISTS IN SCHOOLS - INSIGHTS FROM PARTICIPATING IN THIS PROGRAM


2015-08-22 12:50
by Satish Choy

Introduction As a scientist in CSIRO’s “Scientists in Schools” program (SiS), I spent several years with primary and secondary schools in the Brisbane area and found it to be very rewarding. I wanted to make a difference. Given my own background of not having any career councillors in school and, no idea about what ‘real scientists’ did, I stumbled my way through school and university until I somewhat accidently fell into place of making a science career out of one of my hobbies. As a child growing up in Fiji, I was very fortunate to live on a small island and next to a pristine tropical rainforest stream and a fringing coral reef. I loved exploring the stream as well as the numerous reef tidal pools each time the tide went out. At that time and, until university, I did not know one could become an ecologist and do this for a living! Like many parents, mine wanted me to be a doctor but I wanted to be a pilot. I applied for both and got the scholarship for pilot training first and so started training for my pilot’s licence. However, after about a month into this training I also got a scholarship to do medicine overseas. My parents were ecstatic and asked me to leave the pilot training, which I did. However, due to the then Government’s ‘affirmative indigenous policy’ my overseas place was passed on to an indigenous student and I was told to do the local Diploma in Medicine program, which I refused. The Ministry of Education then offered me a BSc degree program at the local university, which I very reluctantly took. It was not until my third and final year into the BSc program, when I did the Marine Biology course that I knew I had found my vocation! Even after I got an academic position and obtained my PhD in Marine Biology my mother still could not understand that, while I was a ‘doctor’, I could not treat patients! Yet she acknowledged the fact that I was getting paid for what I loved doing and she loved the fact that I had not really grown up – ‘still pottering around in the streams and sea’ she used to say. I also used to bring home very fresh dinner! Since my time in school, I know that many improvements have been made in schools to motivate students to take science: career counselling and advisors, subject streams and options, multiple pathways, etc. The SiS program seemed an interesting innovation to me, hence my interest and participation in it. SiS Program CSIRO’s Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools is a national program that creates and supports longterm partnerships between primary or secondary students, school teachers and scientists or mathematicians. Partnerships are flexible to allow for a style and level of involvement that suits each participant. The Scientists in Schools (SiS) program is open to research scientists and engineers, postgraduate science and engineering students, and professionals working in applied sciences, such as doctors, vets and park rangers. The Mathematicians in Schools (MiS) program is open to anyone with a maths component to their university degree, and who uses maths as part of their working life. This includes economists, accountants, surveyors and mathematical scientists, among others. For more information, please see: http://www.scientistsinschools.edu.au/. Since the program began in July 2007, a total of 4619 partnerships have been established in 2368 schools across Australia. Currently, 1799 partnerships are active in 1263 schools as at 30 June 2015. The proportions are 61% in Primary Schools and 39% in Secondary Schools of which 18% are in Catholic Schools, 18% in Independent Schools and 64% in Government Schools. Regional proportions are: ACT: 4.4%, NSW: 29.9%, TAS: 6.6%, VIC: 23.4%, SA: 8.3%, NT: 1.8%, WA: 9.9% and QLD: 15.7%. Aims of the SiS Program Through the establishment of sustained and ongoing partnerships between scientists and school communities, the project aims to: 1. bring the practice of real world science to students and teachers 2. inspire and motivate teachers and students in the teaching and learning of science 3. provide teachers with the opportunity to strengthen their knowledge of current scientific practices 4. enable scientists to act as mentors or role models for students 9 5. broaden awareness of the types and variety of careers available in the sciences 6. enable teachers and scientists to share ideas and practices with other teachers and scientists 7. increase scientists’ engagement with the broader community, thus raising public awareness of their work and its social and economic importance. The scientists can provide a host of services such as: links to ‘real science’, arrange a class visit to their workplace or another science site, give a presentation to students, help run a school science fair, mentor students who are working on science projects, field trips and excursions, answer students’ questions by email, help a teacher run science activities with students, and provide support and information to teachers. Benefits of the SiS Program Based on the SiS newsletters, scientists who have worked with schools have found it very rewarding. Their own enthusiasm for science is often increased through contact with students’ curiosity and engagement. Many scientists also feel a sense of achievement in nurturing and inspiring students’ interest in science as a career option and as part of their everyday lives. ‘I loved your story and your passion. I now know that I want to become a scientist.’ Student, QLD. ‘Our scientist delivered a wonderful presentation to my Year 8 class and they couldn’t believe what a career in science could offer them’ Teacher, QLD. ‘Student and teacher enthusiasm were great. Lots of questions!’ Scientist, QLD. My own experience has been similar and I believe that the students, teachers and I have all benefited. Students were very keen to know what I did and how I got there professionally, what were the pros and cons of being an aquatic ecologist and what options did they have if they could not ‘make the grade’. None knew that you can initially enter a lower entry-level university program and then later change to a program that was of interest to you, provided you did well. Some said that “there are too many subject options without proper guidance and advice on what to take for what”. There is also a top-down approach and many teachers and students feel that they have not been adequately consulted on what worked for them. How about asking successful students what worked and what didn’t? I am not aware of any surveys done on this matter. Inter-generational differences and new technologies also need to be taken into account to enhance motivation and passion for science among students, not only for a profession but also for science literacy.