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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Kids' Science State aims to encourage tomorrow's scientists

Louise Pemble
Communications Manager, Scitech

Teaching science in Western Australia has just got easier, thanks to a new initiative called the Kids' Science State. It is designed to reinvigorate science education by giving teachers more confidence and skills through a range of supportive programs.

Launched in September this year, the project targets teachers, students and parents. It covers professional development, careers information and outreach activities, and includes a website with resources for students and teachers.

A major focus of the Kids' Science State is primary schools, where the seeds of interest in science can be sown at a young age. Help is needed at this level, as research shows that many Australian primary school teachers lack training, resources and confidence in terms of teaching science.

In 2001, the highly-regarded Goodrum Report into science education in Australia found that science is taught in Australian primary schools, on average, for 59 minutes per week. The Report also found that 58% of primary teachers say inadequate resources and equipment are limiting the quality of science taught in their schools, and 22% have inadequate time to prepare science classes. In addition, 17% say they lack the background knowledge to teach science, and 11% have little or no access to professional development.

The authors concluded that the most pressing needs were for additional professional development to improve teachers' confidence and competence to teach science, and for additional resources to support science teaching, especially in primary schools.

The lack of emphasis on science at this level has had knock-on effects in later years, contributing to a worrying decline in the numbers studying science at high school and university.

This has led to an Australia-wide shortage of science graduates available to government and industry - a particular problem in Western Australia, where a booming resources sector accounts for a quarter of the State's Gross State Product.

It has also led to a shortage of qualified science teachers in Australia. In Western Australia, it is estimated that 15% of physics and chemistry teachers are unqualified in those subjects. This trend is set to worsen due to the high average age of chemistry and physics teachers - 27% in Western Australia are over 49, compared to 13% for Australia as a whole.

The Kids' Science State initiative has begun to address these concerns. Paul Fleay, Kids' Science State Manager, has said that teachers have already shown plenty of interest in it.

A key focus for the initiative is an on-going professional development program called Sci-skills. Education Officer Nadine Smith takes the Sci-skills PD workshop to teachers all over the State. So far this year over 300 teachers have been involved, impacting on an estimated 3000 students.

Sci-skills workshops are unique in that they involve co-operative learning strategies and hands-on activities that can be modified to suit individual schools. Workshop topics include:

  • Creative and Lateral Thinking for Teachers
  • Planning Using the Curriculum Framework
  • Exploring Working Scientifically through Forensic Science
  • Slimy Wonders - Learn more about Natural and Processed Materials
  • Toolkits for the Brain - Empowering Students with a Toolkit for Thinking
  • Investigating Scientifically.
Feedback so far has been very positive. Smith, who sees her role as empowering teachers to bring out the best learning outcomes in their students, said the most pressing issues for primary school teachers included confidence, and ideas and activities to run in class, whereas secondary school teachers needed help in planning, outcomes and cross-curricular ideas.

The Kids' Science State also incorporates the traveling science Roadshow, an outreach program which visits an average of 61,000 people in regional areas every year, including communities in areas as remote as the Cocos and Christmas Islands.

The Roadshow includes:

  • Science Shows with 30-minute demonstrations of fascinating science phenomena
  • The Spacedome, an inflatable planetarium that allows visitors to explore the night sky: planets, constellations, black holes and supernova are all explained in this mini universe
  • Hands-on exhibits presenting principles of science and technology in a way that promotes learning and entertainment.
The visits are led by a talented young team of science graduates, whose interactive demonstrations are designed to show how science fits into our everyday lives. Science shows cover common dilemmas of daily life, such as 'Why Does Toast Land Butter-Side Down?'

During the school term, the Roadshow focuses on school groups of children aged 6-15, by running hands-on science programs that meet the school curriculum. On weekends and school holidays, the Roadshow performs at regional shows, shopping centres, fairs, fetes and community events.

According to Paul Fleay, this ensures that science education reaches the wider community, increasing scientific literacy across the entire community in an age when everybody needs to have a basic level of scientific understanding in order to be able to make informed decisions.

The Kids' Science State is a partnership between Scitech and the Rio Tinto WA Future Fund, which has provided $1.562 million over five years to help fund the project. The Western Australian Department of Educaton and Training has also contributed through the provision of two qualified teachers to the project.



For more information about the Kids' Science State, contact Paul Fleay on (08) 9481 6295 or email paulf@scitech.org.au

To book professional development (Sci-skills), contact Nadine Smith, Education Officer at Scitech, on (08) 9481 6295, or email: nadine@scitech.org.au

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Professional development
Science teaching
Western Australia (WA)