And that’s thanks to teachers like Adele Hudson, above, the school’s Head of Science, who have transformed STEM teaching in recent years.
With a background including a Bachelor of Science from the University of Adelaide and a PhD from RMIT, drawing on her own research and many others’ Hudson is passionate about providing students with opportunities to engage in open-ended investigations.
She’s all about her students learning through exploration and discovery, nurturing a love of learning and strengthening skills such as working collaboratively, problem solving, critical thinking, and utilising technology for data collection and communicating ideas.
Her work and that of an equally dedicated staff of fellow passionate educators, is seeing dramatic results at Aitken, and recently saw Hudson announced BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Teacher Award winner for 2018.
The award will see Hudson join 12 student winners for a 12-day trip to the US, which will include a visit to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Hudson, who also teaches middle school science, senior chemistry and physics, is in her seventh year at the school and says she’s blossomed in her time at the school.
“It’s not like I came into the school with these great ideas - our school has teachers in other faculties who came out of research in education and so they really helped me to change my ideas about education and learning,” she says.
“Without them, I think we would still be doing the same kind of thing. It’s really a team of people that instigates change.”
Aitken College has moved towards ‘skills-based learning’, where rather than content over knowledge-based learning, they are developing students’ transferable skills.
“So things like them designing their own projects, them managing those projects, them also analysing that data so that they’re able to be critical about what they’re finding, and then being able to write it up,” Hudson says.
“You can see that those skills are all things that they will use, irrespective of what career they go into.”
The science teaching team has worked hard across year levels to ensure students engage in learning tasks that are relevant, based on real world scenarios and develop future work skills.
Fortuitously the timing has fit perfectly with the VCAA’s new curriculum rollout of Flat Start, which requires that senior students engage in this kind of work.
“It meant that we were able to write a skills-based assessment based on what the students would have to do and then roll it out all the way down through Year 7,” Hudson says.
“And over the years we then build on those skills, so there’s a plan that we put together and how we build up to what they need to do.
Hudson has driven a range of innovative programs including EngGirls, which is based on that idea of engineering involving project management, where students work in teams to make things happen.
“So our girls design programs for our primary school students, workshops for them about STEM, and so in Year 9 they run that themselves.
“Year 9 and 10 girls also design what we call ‘pop-up clubs’, where they run these clubs at lunchtime, again with primary school students, and that’s to encourage them to develop their leadership skills, teamwork skills, public speaking skills – and they’re also ambassadors at our science nights.
“I’ve also developed a marketing program as well, so I was involved in this amazing initiative last year called Education ChangeMakers – and we had to come up with a project and mine was about marketing to parents, teachers and students about how the world of work is changing and how science and maths are really crucial, irrespective of what kind of career you go into.”
Physics holds a special place in Hudson’s heart and she’s worked hard to ensure it has been anything but dry and boring for her kids.
“So, my Year 9 class – they’ll come in and we’ll give them a basis, or a scenario that they can choose from.
“So, for example, some students are looking at how the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne is wanting to update their rooms for better sound-proofing.
“So they’ll then design a project where they’ll test different materials to find out which material is going to be most suitable for the hospital to incorporate in their rooms, and then they’ll write a report for the hospital, almost like a consultant’s report.
“There’s other students doing artificial eyes, there’s another student doing ‘what kind of gear will athletes wear in low light?’.
“What we’re wanting to do is say ‘yes, this is physics but we want to tell you that physics is so accessible.
“Physics is around you, it’s what you do in your ordinary everyday life’.”
Hudson says she’s really seeing a marked change in the way that they’re approaching the subject.
“Because for them it’s a story isn’t it?
"It’s not just this thing, it’s got meaning in it for them. It can translate into helping someone.”
Regardless of where her students venture after school, be it into a trade or on to university or elsewhere, a solid science knowledge will be beneficial in their lives.
“Isn’t that what we’re doing at school?
"We’re not just doing it for a career, we’re doing it so students can be scientifically literate, so they can actually read things and have a view that is based on evidence and research.”