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Quantum Victoria: supporting science and mathematics education

Soula Bennett
Director, Quantum Victoria and President, Science Teachers Association Of Victoria. Email bennett.artemisia.s@edumail.vic.gov.au

Quantum Victoria is a statewide facility seeking to improve Victorian students' outcomes in science and mathematics, and to equip them with the skills needed to function in multi-disciplinary, high-tech industries. Quantum Victoria also offers innovative forms of teacher professional development.

All students, teachers, laboratory technicians and members of the wider community can access the programs delivered at Quantum Victoria, which is co-located with Charles La Trobe P–12 College at Kingsbury Drive, Macleod West.

A new facility for the Centre is now being constructed and will incorporate state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure, positioning Quantum Victoria as a national and international provider and leader of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.


Supporting science and mathematics education in Victoria

Quantum Victoria is funded by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), as part of the Victorian Government's plans to equip the state for the challenges of the 21st century. Meeting these challenges requires high levels of literacy in science and mathematics throughout the community, starting with students themselves.

Science and mathematics teach students how to identify and investigate issues, draw evidence-based conclusions and make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing. Current scientific issues requiring awareness and understanding include our changing climate, water supplies, salination, alternative energy sources, nanotechnology and biotechnology.

Meeting these challenges also requires a highly-skilled workforce.

The future of Victoria and Australia depends on more young people being excited by careers that use science, mathematics and technology. We need a strong pool of talented scientists and mathematicians to advance technological and scientific boundaries. For instance, Victoria's burgeoning biotechnology industry will need highly-skilled scientists to meet the expected growth in experimental facilities and production plants. Moreover, if Victoria is to establish a world-class renewable energy and carbon capture and storage industry, we will need a highly-skilled and trained workforce. (Energising Science and Mathematics Education in Victoria p 5)

In pursuit of these plans, the Victorian Government is upgrading the infrastructure and curriculum resources for STEM education that are available to Victorian schools, teachers and students. It is also taking measures to attract more teachers to science and mathematics, and to provide more professional learning opportunities to existing teachers. The Government's support for Quantum Victoria follows from these plans.
 

Engaging students in STEM subjects

Quantum Victoria provides students with access to innovative and engaging programs, which involve deep and complex investigations. It offers ways for students to learn research methodologies, and investigative science and mathematics, through emerging technologies. The interdisciplinary nature of this Centre allows students to tackle complex and challenging problems from a number of perspectives.

Programs are aligned with the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) dimensions 'Science at Work' and 'Working Mathematically'. They are also aligned to the three strands of the Australian Curriculum: Science - Science as a Human Endeavour, Science Understanding, and Science Inquiry Skills.

Quantum Victoria reflects the authentic and holistic work of scientists and teams of scientists. It calls on students to develop an hypothesis, undertake an investigation, ask questions, find answers and develop solutions. Students link their knowledge of science and mathematics with the practical, working applications found in the world around them.


Teacher professional learning

Professional learning provides a means for teachers and laboratory technicians to keep abreast of the latest in scientific research and practice in the physical sciences and associated pedagogical contents knowledge, with particular reference to the middle years.

P–10 teachers have opportunities to become more scientifically and mathematically literate, gain knowledge and confidence in the teaching and learning of science and mathematics, and conduct scientific and mathematical inquiries with their students. Senior secondary teachers, in particular teachers of chemistry, physics and mathematics, have opportunities to up-skill in laboratory procedures and cutting-edge science capabilities. 

Teachers may also work with Quantum Victoria on long-term projects that will both inform and extend their classroom practice. Extensive ongoing support will be provided for teachers to ensure that the pedagogy being developed will be embedded throughout classrooms in the State. 

Teacher professional learning opportunities include:

  • Online professional development modules and webinars
  • Immersive quest-based experiences within game worlds
  • Face-to-face workshops and conferences
  • Community-driven online professional development modules

Drawing on the expertise of educators from around the globe, a 10-week program allows teachers to form a community of practice and to embed what they learn in their day-to-day teaching and learning. Together with a series of live webinars delivered through 'Blackboard', extensive support and mentoring is provided via immersion within a virtual learning community. Each week a series of tasks provoke teachers' thinking. Multiple entry and multiple exit points allow participants to complete as many of these tasks as they wish, at their own pace. Teachers engage their students in an extended process of inquiry using project-based learning methodologies – which of course they will learn how to structure, plan, document and assess throughout the program. The program involves participants for two hours per week.

Topics include 21st Century Learning, an introduction to Project-Based Learning, Real World Mathematics, Virtual Worlds and ICT in Science. Game-based learning is another topic, which will become a major focus of Quantum Victoria's suite of programs.


The new facility

The Centre's new facility is due to be complete by the end of October 2011. It will support programs that embrace cutting- edge, aspirational technologies with a particular focus on games technology, virtual reality, gesture-based computing, 3D printing, robotics and the physical sciences.

Features include a 150-seat lecture theatre for teaching and public lectures, studio spaces supporting project-based learning, a games development suite and technically-rich laboratories designed to allow students and teachers to move freely and seamlessly from one learning space to another.

The Centre will be available to students and teachers across Victoria, and in-house programs will be facilitated by the development of a range of online resources. 

These will include modular type courses for staff professional development, entire modules for student inquiries, a selection of 'stand alone' lessons and/or practicals, and interactive programs for students to work with other students, staff or scientists, mathematicians, academics or virtual practical sessions. 

The Centre will also provide an outreach program that uses video-conferencing and the establishment of virtual networks at its core. It is this aspect of the Centre that will drive its core operations. The Outreach component of the Centre's programs will supplement the core programs delivered, and the mode of delivery will include Regional Roadshows and Online resources for pre and post visits.


Partnerships

Quantum Victoria has established many partnerships. Current partners include:

  • La Trobe University
  • The All-Sky Astrophysics Initiative, CAASTRO
  • The ARC Centre of Excellence for Free Radical Chemistry and Biotechnology
  • The State Library of Victoria
  • In2Science Peer Mentoring
  • The Ideaslab
  • The Tall Poppy Campaign

Partnerships also extend to the international arena where the Centre is involved in Consortia that are investigating new and best practices in online education for STEM students and the professional development of teachers, and new models of student-driven STEM learning that are engaging and lead to higher retention rates.

In the rapidly changing world in which we live, the value of innovation and creativity is increasing at an exponential rate. Technology is driving change and is increasingly a means for empowering students, a method for communication and socialising, and a ubiquitous, transparent part of their lives. The team at Quantum Victoria believe that all children can excel in STEM disciplines, including computer science, which they will need to work with in the multi-disciplinary, high-tech industries of the 21st century.

Website:  www.quantumvictoria.vic.edu.au Email: info@quantumvictoria.edu.au

Key Learning Areas

Science
Mathematics
Technology

Subject Headings

Education policy
Curriculum planning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Technology teaching
Numeracy
Science teaching
Science literacy
Mathematics teaching
Victoria