Australia's Chief Scientist

Top science teachers inspired by history

Matthew McCloskey

From a childhood spent chasing ladybirds and lizards to a career as an award winning teacher, Matthew McCloskey is still passionate about science.

He is the 2010 winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.

While completing his PhD and working as a research scientist, Mr McCloskey noticed a trend amongst his peers that their love of science often began in their early childhoods.

He has put this knowledge to good work in his teaching career by getting students involved in real experiments.

“In my classes the children do science.  We set out to investigate.  Students are coming up with their own questions, designing their own experiments, making observations and interpreting and drawing conclusions,” Mr McCloskey said.

Debra SmithAn equally committed teacher with over 30 years of experience under her belt, Debra Smith is the recipient of the 2010 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.  Her fascination with science also began in childhood and also involved getting hands on with experiments to find out how things work.

Most importantly, she recognises the innate value of a scientific education, either as a profession or in our everyday lives.

“Without our work there would be no scientists, and young people would be much less able to make informed decisions about the impact of science and technology on their lives,” Ms Smith said.

Her hands-on teaching covers a diverse range of science disciplines, from kinetics to alternative energy sources through activities like bottle rockets and wind turbines.  Her students even test the water quality of the local river and report to their council.

She has also developed a science club for students that wish to take their interest in science one step further.

Ms Smith’s results speak for themselves.  Her school’s senior science scores are well above the state average and in 2009, 26 of the schools top 29 students chose to study science degrees at university.

Both these dedicated teachers are involved in development of the science component of the new national curriculum and are also working to equip other teachers with the skills and tools to get students more involved in science.

In another parallel, they both describe the most satisfying part of their jobs as seeing the ‘lights come on’ when their hard work is transformed into a new level of understanding for their students.

Congratulations to these deserving winners.