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Fifteen years later... How the Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching has recognised our industry's finest.

Footballers have the Brownlow Medal, actors have the Academy Awards: for scientists in Australia it's the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science that spotlights their incredible contribution to our nation's STEM future.

Scientists might be responsible for much of our current quality of life, but not many of them are recognised for it. Few practitioners will claim to have gone into their field for the accolades and most will use any platform provided to them to talk about their work rather than themselves, which only makes the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science all the more important. Many Australian scientists are considered to be among the best in the world in their fields and their contributions often go publicly unnoticed.

In 2002, two new awards were added to the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science to acknowledge the critical role of science teachers in contributing to Australia's scientific and technological capabilities: the Prime Minister's Prizes for Excellence in Primary and Secondary Science Teaching.

Prior to 2002, only scientists were recognised for their achievements, but through the efforts of Jan Althorp, the then Executive Director of ASTA, and the Executive Committee of that time, the federal government was lobbied to recognise the contribution of teachers to science.

It was evident that almost every scientist receiving an award enthusiastically acknowledged the positive influence of science teachers in shaping their careers. It was appropriate, therefore, to extend the awards to those individuals who inspired their students with a love and passion for science.
"As the inaugural chair of the selection committee for the Prime
Minister's Prize for Excellence in Primary and Secondary Science
Teaching, I was fortunate to lead a distinguished group of science
educators and science practitioners in developing strong selection
criteria for these awards in order to maintain the prestige that the
Prime Minister's Prizes for Science had earned." (Peter Russo, Chief
Executive Officer, ASTA, 2007-2012).


On a practical level, these prizes are nothing to sneeze at. Each one comprises a silver medallion and a grant of $50,000, awarded at a prestigious presentation dinner attended by the glitterati of Australian science and innovation. But underpinning these tangible rewards is an honour and recognition that teachers are otherwise often denied.
"The greatest reward has always been in having the opportunity to
contribute to the skill development of students and to build their
connections with science. The award, however, gave recognition for
thirty years of dedication and innovation and also enabled me to
publicly acknowledge the support of my school community and family.

"Since receiving the award, I've been invited to participate in a
short skill-sharing tour in Japan, contribute to the development of
departmental educational material in South Australia and present at
national education conferences, so my experiences have been extended
in a range of areas." (Brian Schiller, Seacliff Primary School, South
Australia--Award winner 2014).


The focus of the Prizes is the quality of teachers' classroom pedagogy, but also taken into account are the contributions recipients have made to curriculum materials, teacher professional development and providing educational experiences for science students beyond the classroom.

The recipients are great teachers, yes, but they are also great advocates for change in how science is taught.
"A good modern teacher is an educator who is prepared to embrace the
diversity of learning capabilities and styles, and who presents
themselves within a safe, collaborative learning environment. A good
modern teacher is an educator who is prepared to adapt the curriculum
to suit the learning needs of their students and at the same time
provide a learning system which is multi-disciplined and
inter-disciplined to promote engagement and enthusiasm for learning. A
good modern teacher is an educator who is aware of future STEM
industry requirements and therefore develops learning programs which
are contextual, authentic, relevant, meaningful and applicable; so
that the students are aware of how their learning can serve for the
development of potential career paths.

"Modern, contemporary teaching is founded on experiential, inquiry
project-based learning, driven by the diversity of students' talents
and ideas and fostered and facilitated by the educator. It is
incredible what students can produce when given the flexibility and
adaptability to showcase their learning through projects, which they
produce and develop." (Suzy Urbaniak, Kent Street Senior High School,
Western Australia--Award winner 2016.)


The recipients share qualities that allow them to function as role models and trail blazers, shrugging off preconceived notions about what a teacher is and what a teacher does and embracing the notion of what a teacher can be.
"These awards allow for the telling of stories of great classroom
practice on a day-to-day basis, and the raising of engagement and
achievement of students, especially from teaching situations that
raise challenges that some might see as insurmountable. It is
important that these awards continue to recognise the power of the
great classroom teacher, who, most of all, inspires their own students
to look beyond the textbook and the classroom walls into the science
of the world around them.

"It could be said that, with teaching being, more and more, a
collaborative activity, the idea of presenting teaching awards to
individuals is somewhat artificial. However, the teacher is still the
woman or man who is the inspiration, the leader, the creative power or
the builder of relationships, which remains the skilled art of the
individual, and as such we should reveal and celebrate these
exceptional people in awards such as the Prime Minister's Prizes for
Science Teaching.

"Given the status of the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Teaching,
it is disappointing that in recent years the number of applications
for the awards has reduced in number. I believe this says more about
the time required to submit such applications and the increasingly
busy life of teachers than any drop in the quality and commitment of
the science teaching profession around the country. How to empower
more exceptional practitioners to apply for these awards, especially
in primary science teaching, is an issue that needs to be addressed."
(Geoff Quinton, President of ASTA and Chair of the Teaching Committee.)


Since being outstanding is what leads a teacher towards being awarded one of the two teaching prizes, it's not surprising that many of them continue to be outstanding after receiving it. Richard Johnson (2013 primary recipient) and Ken Silburn (2015 secondary recipient) have both since made it onto the top ten list of the Varkey Foundation Global Teaching Award (worth US one million dollars), and Sarah Chapman (2013 secondary recipient) was awarded a Barbara Cail STEM Fellowship to examine opportunities for Australia to increase female participation in STEM.

In an act of outstanding generosity and devotion towards teacher development, inaugural Secondary Prize recipient Ruth Dircks used the entire monetary grant of her award to establish the ASTA Ruth Dircks Scholarship to attend CONASTA, which allows a teacher who has demonstrated excellence in their practice to attend the annual CONASTA Conference for further inspiration and learning.

Significant to these prizes is their inclusion in the overall Prime Minister's Prizes for Science. This demonstrates the government's commitment to a ground-up approach to supporting Australia's ongoing excellence in science, technology and innovation. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged the connection between science education and scientific excellence in his speech at the 2016 award presentation dinner. The prizes, he said, celebrate..." [Australia's] outstanding achievements in science, from teachers that have inspired a generation of young scientists, to world-class researchers that are pushing the very frontier of human knowledge." That the path to scientific excellence begins with effective and inspirational teaching is irrefutable, and the effect of teachers on all their students' perception of science cannot be overstated. It is not unusual for science prize awardees to pay tribute to teachers who inspired them to choose a science-related career.
"A good science education at school provides the basis of how people
learn to sift through information and make decisions about life. It
increasingly underpins our democracy, where citizens are expected to
sift through almost boundless information, much of it deeply flawed,
to make decisions about the fundamental directions of our country.

"In our modern society, where every aspect is permeated by science
and technology, science education is now an essential life skill for
thriving in our world." (Brian Schmidt, Vice Chancellor, Australian
National University.)


The Australian Science Teachers Association is pleased to support the Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Science Teaching and applauds the way it shines a light on some of the most deserving unsung heroes of science.

Kimberley Gaal is a communications specialist who previously worked for the Australian Science Teachers Association, and is now the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at ANU Press.
2002:  Marianne Nicholas (Walkerville Primary School, SA)
2003:  Sarah Tennant (St Ives Preparatory, NSW)
2004:  Alwyn Powell (Darling Heights State Primary School, OJd)
2005:  Mark Merritt (Marmion Primary School, WA)
2006:  Marjorie Colvill (Perth Primary School, Tas)
2007:  Cheryl Capra (Albany Hills State School, Qld)
2008:  Bronwyn Mart (Magill Primary School, SA)
2009:  Allan Whittome (Badgingarra Primary School, WA)
2010:  Matthew McCloskey (Sydney Grammar's Edgecliff Preparatory
       School, NSW)
2011:  Brooke Topelberg (Westminster Primary School, WA)
2012:  Michael van der Ploeg (Table Cape Primary School, Tas)
2013:  Richard Johnson (Rostrata Primary School, WA)
2014:  Brian Schiller (Seacliff Primary School, SA)
2015:  Rebecca Johnson (Windaroo Primary State School, Qld)
2016:  Gary Tilley (Seaforth Primary School, NSW)
2017:  Neil Bramsen (Mount Ousley Primary School, NSW)


Past recipients of the Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools
2002:  Ruth Dircks (Dungog High School, NSW)
2003:  Pamela Garnett (St Hilda's Anglican School for Girls, WA)
2004:  Mark Butler (Gosford High School, NSW)
2005:  Mike Roach (Hamilton Secondary College, SA)
2006:  Anna Davis (Casimir Catholic College, NSW)
2007:  Francesca Calati (St Helena Secondary College, Vic)
2008:  Clay Reid (Clare High School, SA)
2009:  Len Altman (Marden Senior College, SA)
2010:  Debra Smith (Centenary High School, Qld)
2011:  Jane Wright (Loreto College, SA)
2012:  Anita Trenwith (Salisbury High School, SA)
2013:  Sarah Chapman (Townsville State High School, Qld)
2014:  Geoff McNamara (Melrose High School, ACT)
2015:  Kenneth Silburn (Casula High School,
2016:  Suzy Urbaniak (Kent Street Senior High School, WA)
2017:  Brett McKay (Kirrawee High School, NSW)


PM's Prizes for Excellence in Science Teaching - applications open 21 February 2018.

From 2013, the cash component of the teaching awards has been shared equally between the prize recipient and the school in which they were teaching at the time of nomination, in recognition of the principals' and schools' supporting roles in providing teachers with the facilities required to achieve their results.
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Author:Gaal, Kimberley
Publication:Teaching Science
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 1, 2018
Words:1751
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