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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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SPICE up your teaching: enriching science teaching in Western Australia

Jan Dook
Dr Jan Dook is SPICE Coordinator, University of Western Australia

SPICE is a professional learning program designed for secondary science teachers. Through the program, participating teachers prepare and evaluate teaching and learning resources in collaboration with scientists and experts in multimedia and curriculum design.

SPICE is a partnership between the Western Australian Department for Education and Training (DET) and The University of Western Australia (UWA) which commenced in 2006. SPICE is based at the Centre for Learning Technology in the Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences at UWA. The program is offered to all Western Australian government schools and is also available to non-government schools on a cost-recovery basis.

As well as stimulating enthusiasm for science and science teaching, SPICE aims to increase teachers’ knowledge and understanding of current science and associated investigative skills in their specialist area. The program equips teachers to select and utilise a range of modern learning technologies in their classrooms, and provides the knowledge and confidence to implement high quality teaching and assessment that will enhance their students’ learning.

Teacher in Residence program

The SPICE program provides funds for science teachers from DET schools to participate in a Teacher in Residence program at UWA. They are exposed to the latest science and its technological applications, which provide interesting and meaningful learning contexts for students.

The development of high quality teaching and learning resources is a core outcome for the program. Each Teacher in Residence works with UWA scientists and SPICE Instructional Designers to create concept designs for new curriculum resources (including interactive learning objects, video and printed materials) which are then developed by DUIT Multimedia. Teachers in Residence are then trained to mentor their colleagues and assist in the development and implementation of SPICE professional learning programs for other teachers.

Government schools in Western Australia are able to sign up as SPICE schools. Being a SPICE school provides first access to new curriculum resources and to special events such as the recent visit by Sir Roger Penrose to the Gravity Waves Discovery Centre at Gingin. Teachers from SPICE schools are also encouraged to become ‘critical friends’ providing formative feedback to the SPICE program about draft learning resources.

Former and current SPICE Teachers in Residence presented some of the early outcomes from SPICE at the World Conference on Science and Technology Education (ICASE) in Perth in July 2007. The presentations covered topics such as waves, including mechanical waves, tsunamis and electromagnetic waves; data logging opportunities in the science classroom; and the physics of collisions and the use of vectors in the analysis of motion. One workshop covering nuclear energy utilised three new learning objects to illustrate the process of isotope decay and decay chains. It also featured a video interview with a UWA scientist talking about the application of the decay process with reference to research on the geological ageing of rock specimens in the Stirling Ranges.

At the end of their stay at UWA, it is anticipated that the Teachers in Residence will take new skills and understandings back to their schools and become positive agents for change.

Other professional learning for participating schools

All DET science teachers are invited to attend two to three days of funded SPICE professional learning delivered by scientists at UWA. The workshops and talks cover topical issues, exciting new research and a range of scientific processes and new technologies. In October 2006, for example, 85 teachers took part in the UWA’s Science Day and enjoyed topics including new treatments for spinal cord injuries, molecular tools for managing foxes, phosphorus nutrition of Australian plants, forensic chemistry, quantum computing, radioastronomy and microscopy and microanalysis. In June 2007, 120 teachers visited UWA over four days to participate in professional learning in biology, human biology, lower school science and physical science. Activities included genetic fingerprinting, hearing about meningococcal bacteria research, solving the puzzling murder of Ritchie Man, making biodiesel in the chemistry laboratories, presentations on the Spinning Disk Reactor in nanotechnology and the SKA telescope.

Implementation in schools

SPICE teachers have now begun trialling the resources and techniques they have experienced through the program.  The first SPICE learning resources were introduced in participating schools during third term this year. Initially, the resources are targeting the new physical science courses for Years 11 and 12. They cover topics including mechanical waves, ecology and nuclear physics, forces and vectors, electromagnetic waves, solutions, green chemistry and marine biology, nuclear physics and ecosystem interrelationships. During Term 4, workshops and meetings will be offered to all teachers in government schools and free resources will be available at these meetings.

Next year resources will be made available to all DET schools, through further professional learning workshops and through the DET’s online portal.

It is envisaged that SPICE schools will become part of an ongoing, supported network of science teachers and scientists. In the meantime SPICE schools are being encouraged to collaborate with one another in order to develop the program further. They will promote the program to their local community, the science community and to promote science as a career choice to their own students. School leaders are asked to provide opportunities for SPICE representatives to meet their science staff, and help their science staff participate in the program’s funded professional learning activities.

As the SPICE program progresses it is anticipated that heightened engagement and interaction between teachers and tertiary scientists will have a significant impact upon the enthusiasm of teachers for science. In turn this will positively influence their students’ attitudes to science and tertiary science courses.

For further information contact:

Dr Jan Dook
Centre for Learning Technology
Mail Bag 016
The University of Western Australia
Phone:  +61 8 6488 2597
email:  jdook@cyllene.uwa.edu.au

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Science teaching
Professional development
Western Australia (WA)