The University of Western Australia has extended its ‘Travelling Scientist’ program to the state’s remote Kimberley region in a bid to support and inspire science teachers and their students.
Shell Australia is supporting the scheme which sees PhD students sent into schools to talk with kids and work on practical and relevant activities such as water monitoring and photographing stars.
Director of UWA’s Centre for Learning Technology, Dr Michael Wheatley said the initiative is an extension of SPICE, the University’s Science Teachers Enrichment Program, which has been engaging with science teachers throughout Western Australia since 2006.
“The whole idea is provide support for science teachers in WA who are facing a changing curriculum and a need to demonstrate the relevance of science in everyday life,” he said.
In the Travelling Scientist program, early stage PhD researchers from UWA visit regional schools along with SPICE staff and focus on how they got into their career, the type of work they do and what opportunities science has brought to them.
In 2014 they spent time with more than 1900 students throughout regional Western Australia.
“In the Kimberley our program is helping students who are facing many challenges – they are isolated geographically, may have a low literacy base and some have English as their second language,” Dr Wheatley said.
“To be able to provide curriculum support to teachers but also let kids see the eye-opening possibilities of a career in science through the stories of our inspiring PhD students really is wonderful.”
UWA Curriculum Consultant Jenny Gull who accompanies the post doc students said it’s about thinking outside of the square and finding topics children can relate to.
“In Broome for example we’ve been getting the kids out of the classroom with some of the local rangers and using equipment we’ve sourced through UWA to do soil sampling and water testing,” she said.
“They’re looking at the health of the water, using equipment to test it,” Ms Gull said. “They also look at data to understand the constraints on water supplies and simulate steps taken in generating potable water.
“With Shell’s support we’ve now provided comprehensive monitoring kits to nine Kimberley schools. It’s just one of many and varied projects,” she said.
“Some of the communities we visit are very remote but there’s no reason these kids shouldn’t have the same opportunities in terms of science. We want to help them release their own potential for the future.”
The SPICE program was established with three main objectives – to provide learning development for teachers, help them with resources to use in the classroom and also showcase UWA science, bringing teachers on to the UWA campus where possible, to interact with research scientists.
“The importance and relevance of contemporary science to society is something we see evidence of every day. We want to help share that with a whole new generation,” Dr Wheatley said.
Caption: UWA PhD student Lucille Chapuis who is part of the Travelling Scientist program.