From the Director

Welcome to the December edition of NYSF Outlook.

At the time of writing there are 400 young people who are preparing to travel to Canberra for the January 2015 NYSF Sessions. This map shows just how widespread our reach is for young Australians.

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To say that there is a sense of excitement building would be an understatement! I know of at least one group of students that are already ‘counting the sleeps’. Thanks to the support of The Australian National University (ANU), in 2015 we have been able to increase the number of students by 40 places for each of the sessions, giving us a total cohort of 200 per session.

Our domestic students will be joined this year with students from Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and for the first time Brazil and Fiji. The international participation over January is relatively small, however is well justified in terms of the opportunities it provides for our young people for knowledge and cultural exchange. This also exposes the international students to the study and career opportunities that are available within Australia, which they share in their home communities.

One of the highlights of the NYSF January sessions this year will be the Science Dinners. Instead of having a single keynote speaker as we have had in the past, the dinners this year will be run as a symposium. We have secured some of the best thinkers, researchers and practitioners to participate and offer us their insights. The theme for the Session A Science Dinner is engagement of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). The Session C Science Dinner will focus on Indigenous Engagement and Knowledge with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). We believe both of these discussions and the Q&A sessions that will follow will be stimulating for the students. If you are interested in coming along to the dinners, you can buy a ticket.  Email nysf@nysf.edu.au and we can send you the information.

For the 2015 National Science Teachers’ Summer School (NSTSS) we will be welcoming 50 science teachers from across the country from primary, secondary and senior secondary schools. The NSTSS is an NYSF program that is currently conducted in collaboration with the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA). The aim of the NSTSS is to immerse teachers in cutting edge STEM research and feed their – often infectious – motivation. The NSTSS challenges the participants to consider the question, “What do we want our students to know about science?” The resulting discussions regularly transcend curriculum frameworks. I would like to acknowledge Questacon and the Federal Education Minister, Minister Pyne, for their financial support for this much-needed program. Negotiations are ongoing to secure the longevity of NSTSS program into the future with the hope of it being extended to other locations.

On behalf of the NYSF Council, Executive and everyone here at NYSF Central, I would like to extend our best wishes for the Festive Season and New Year! And to the 2015 students … we’ll be seeing you soon!

From the Chair

Autumn has arrived in Canberra, reminding us how much of the year is gone already. The leaves are changing colour and we are turning our attention to next year’s Sessions.

Applications for 2015 opened on 1 April and students have been making enquiries. This emphasises the important role that the Rotary partnership plays and how effective Rotary members’ involvement is in not only the vital role of selecting students to attend Sessions in January, but increasing awareness about the program. Thank you once again Rotary!

We are also having a hard look at the strategic direction of the NYSF. At a time when there is increasing focus on whether our economy will have enough STEM professionals in the future, programs such as the NYSF are even more relevant because they provide exposure for young people to a wide range of science and technology-related fields, and also a greater understanding of the increasing points of intersection among various disciplines. How well we are achieving this needs to be constantly considered.

And on the topic of intersections, along with several members of the office staff and Council, I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of a great collaborative project – Australia’s Future. The magazine profiles individual success stories in STEM areas across Australia and was led by the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA) and funded by the Office of the Chief Scientist for Australia, but also had the support of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, the Australian Mathematics Trust, Australian Science Innovations, the CSIRO, the National Mathematics Summer School and of course the National Youth Science Forum.

You can view the magazine online at: http://australiasfuture.com/

Craig Cormick

The Curious Country

Earlier this year, The Office of the Chief Scientist asked Australians what they would like to know more about; what scientific issues concern them and what discoveries inspire them. The results shaped a collection of essays about the scientific issues affecting Australians today. The Curious Country is available as a free download for your e-book reader, tablet, computer or mobile phone at www.chiefscientist.gov.au/2013/11/the-curious-country/

 

Boosting the status of science teaching: what can we do?

DamienPearce

NYSF Interim Director, Damien Pearce comments:

With National Science Week upon us, there has been some discussion in the past few weeks about Australians’ level of science literacy, and the role of our science teachers in contributing to the wider community’s understanding of science.

A recent survey of the Alumni of the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) indicated that, along with parents and family members, science teachers were highly influential in assisting students to choose study pathways and career options within science, engineering and technology. The responses suggested that the influence of science teachers extended past the immediate teaching and learning interaction and included broader considerations within the learning environment, such as school wide approaches to student centred pedagogy, and contemporary educational leadership to empower teachers as we expect so that our students can be inspired within the classroom.

The NYSF, in partnership with the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA), has been facilitating the National Science Teachers Summer School (NSTSS) with support from the University of Canberra (UC) and the Australian National University (ANU). Designed to enhance the status, confidence and practice of both primary and secondary science teachers, the NSTSS is a two week “holiday program” that aims to provide teachers of science with unique experiences in science and science education to re-invigorate their passion for and engagement with science, which then leads to enhancing the teaching of science to their students. This experience includes engaging with research, researchers and academics across the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields within modern facilities that are often better equipped than most Australian schools. ANU and UC have taken an altruistic view to support this program and their support needs to be acknowledged within this audience.

Chemistry Lab at the ANU, part of the National Science Teachers Summer School January 2013

Chemistry Lab at the ANU, part of the National Science Teachers Summer School January 2013

The ideology of the professions and professionalism has been widely contested and debated. Regardless of any debate, these perspectives place the emphasis on moral probity, service orientation and codes of conduct within professional practice to meet community expectations. Fundamentally, it may be argued that professions effectively strike an accord or bargain with the community in an environment where competence and integrity is exchanged for the trust, relative freedom from supervision and interference by people who do not have specialist or professional knowledge of the subject, protection against unqualified competition, substantial remuneration, and higher social status.

I also believe that the profession of science teaching and teaching more widely is taking a hammering and this definitely needs to stop. We need to be conscious that teaching is a difficult profession and trust, understanding and support from the community is imperative to mitigate negative perceptions to increase the professional status of teaching within the community. Instead of blaming teachers for relative performance of our school children in terms of benchmarked outcomes, we could place greater emphasis on the process of learning by looking closer at individual improvement of the student towards meeting the designated outcomes and not consider these outcomes in terms or absolute success or failure.

In Australia today, everyone is fortunate to have been educated to some degree, and most people have an opinion about education. Our opinions are informed by a combination of own experiences and varying engagement in debates, through the media or otherwise, about educational public policy and political agendas. To support our science teachers, lets progress from the deficit model of public opinion on the performance of teachers, to one where we identify and support them as professionals by acknowledging their specialist knowledge and trusting them to educate our children the best way they can within social-economic constraints.

Further information about National Science Teachers Summer School: nysf.edu.au/other/teachers