The awards included outstanding science teachers West Australian secondary educator, Suzy Urbaniak and NSW primary teacher, Gary Tilley.
Kent Street Senior High School’s Urbaniak is turning students into scientists and setting them up for jobs in mining, conservation, tourism and more and was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.
Seaforth Public School’s Tilley is turning the next generation of primary teachers onto science, and received the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.
Geoscientist Urbaniak combined her two loves—science and education—by becoming a science teacher 30 years after finishing high school, but was taken aback when she saw how little teaching styles had changed over the years.
“I decided then that I wanted to make a difference,” she says.
“I wanted to turn the classroom into a room full of young scientists, rather than students learning from textbooks.”
Starting out as a geoscientist, Urbaniak found that while she knew all the theory from school and university, she didn’t have any hands-on experience and didn’t feel as though she knew what she was doing.
She realised there needed to be a stronger connection between the classroom and what was happening in the real world, out in the field, and took this philosophy into her teaching career.
“The science in my classroom is all about inquiry and investigation, giving the students the freedom to develop their own investigations and find their own solutions.
“I don’t believe you can really teach science from worksheets and text books.”
Tilley is mentoring the next generation of science and maths teachers to improve the way these subjects are taught in the classroom.
“In over 30 years of teaching, I’ve never seen a primary school student who isn’t curious and doesn’t want to be engaged in science,” he says.
“Once they’re switched onto science, it helps their literacy and numeracy skills, and their investigative skills.
“Science is the key to the whole thing.”
Tilley recognised that the way science was being taught in primary schools needed to change and mentors younger teachers at his school. He also helps train science and maths student teachers at Macquarie University through their Opening Real Science program.
At Seaforth Public School, Tilley and his students have painted almost every wall in their school with murals of dinosaurs and marine reptiles, and created models of stars and planets, to encourage excitement and a love for science.
“Communicating science, getting children inspired with science, engaging the community and scientists themselves with science to make it a better place for the kids—that’s my passion,” Tilley says.