A partnership with UWA’s Graduate School of Education has turned a modest rural high school into a high achieving institution.
Heath Dullard, a young physics teacher at Pinjarra Senior High School, put his hand up to join a program called Thinking Science Australia when UWA’s Grady Venville and Mary Oliver wrote about the program in a science teachers’ journal in 2008.
“Pinjarra was the most enthusiastic about being part of our pilot program,” said Winthrop Professor Venville. She and her colleague Assistant Professor Oliver had an ARC grant to adapt a science teaching program they had both used successfully in the UK.
“Thinking Science Australia is a professional development program for teachers to learn how to stimulate their students to use higher order thinking skills,” Professor Venville said. “The program provides teachers with lessons and resources but also the theory behind the program.”
Assistant Professor Oliver said science teachers loved it because it was evidence-based and they could measure its success. “It’s quite different from a lot of professional development because it really changes the way you teach,” she said.
The UWA staff have visited Pinjarra SHS and Mr Dullard has come up to Perth for training over the past 18 months.
“He now asks his students many more questions rather than telling them the answers,” Professor Oliver said. “He will ask ‘Why would you think that?’
It has made the students more confident to think about other problems, not just those they encounter in science.
Professor Venville said teachers who used the program in the United Kingdom found the same results. “The students were saying: ‘I hate those thinking lessons; they make me think all day!’
“Teachers are nice caring people who want to give their students the answers, so they have to change their way of thinking with this program,” she said. “They have to learn that they are doing the students a favour by making it harder, by teaching them how to think.”
Professor Oliver said the program was challenging for teachers, as well as students.
The Graduate School of Education colleagues have 11 schools in their two year program,
including one in Queensland. One is an Aspire UWA school, in
“Heath is such a terrific young man. He has done outstanding work to improve his students’ outcomes,” Professor Venville said.
The partnership between UWA and Pinjarra SHS won a $25,000 Schools First award, sponsored by the National Australia Bank, to create links between the community and schools.
“That funding has allowed teachers at Pinjarra to do more professional development and given them time to reflect on what they’ve learned and embed it into their teaching,” Professor Venville said. “And Heath is now training so that he can deliver professional development for other teachers.”
- Published in UWA News, 31 May 2010