NYSF Annual Report 2013

NYSF’s Annual Report 2013 is now available to view online.

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

From the Director

Geoff BurchfieldMid-winter here in Canberra is generally a quiet time for the National Youth Science Forum. But this year the place is buzzing with significant developments, some perhaps surprising.

First up, I have decided to step down from my role as Director of the NYSF, effective from the end of August. It’s a been a wonderful nine years for me but it’s time to move on and pursue other interests. My succession program is already in place and I feel I’m leaving the NYSF in very good hands.

The interim director, Damien Pearce, is already on board. He is a Fulbright scholar with a strong background in education. And he is no stranger to the organisation. In his former role as NYSF Assistant Director, he will be known to many who have attended the Canberra sessions over the past two years. Additionally, Damien has been closely involved in the student-staff training program.

the place is buzzing with significant developments

Recently he has been an architect of major office re-structures that have not only streamlined portfolios and brought operations under one roof but made possible some new staff changes. In particular we are delighted to welcome Amanda Caldwell as our Manager, Communications & Partnerships. Also there are now three part-time positions in our office, specifically for former NYSF students. This is an important way of maintaining connections with the student body while also providing training opportunities.

As I write, the Next Step Program is in full swing around the country and the International Program is underway too. Currently we have students at programs in Boston and Pretoria with others soon to leave for Heidelberg and London.

The re-vamped Outback Leadership Treks are also about to get underway. This year our young student staff leaders are trekking in Southern Queensland under the guidance of Adventure Out.

While I am leaving to explore new personal opportunities, I am keeping options open for the possibility of continuing my involvement in some way, so strong is my belief in NYSF, its future and the organisation’s ability to achieve change in the lives of the young people we support.

Geoff Burchfield