After primary school teacher Sandra Davey heard eminent Australian scientist Dr Ben Greene speak at STEM X 2016, she was so inspired by his story that she decided to write a book about it, or more accurately, have her students do so.
She knew he would appeal to her students, who were part of the enrichment program and among the brightest at Graceville State School.
“He was an inspirational man who challenged his teachers and was brave enough to stand up for what he believed in,” she said. “And the kids in my class got that, so I thought he’d be an excellent role model.”
Dr Greene’s fierce intellect has seen him become CEO of the Space Environment Research Centre, combating space junk through the world’s most sophisticated lasers.
“Excited and intrigued by the nature of his work, and with few resources for primary-aged students on Australian scientists, writing a book about Dr Greene and his research seemed an ideal way to explore the concepts,” Ms Davey said.
In a case of true inquiry-based, student-led, learning, students investigated aspects of Dr Greene’s work and life according to their interests. Some looked at lasers, others photons, some satellites, others NASA. These subjects were also explored visually through artwork created for the book.
“There were abstract concepts and terminology we didn’t initially grasp, but investigating them opened up a whole world of science,” she said. “They had to take some risks to mentally put it all together, but stepping out of their learning comfort zone allowed for beautiful academic growth.”
The students conducted Skype interviews with Dr Greene where they learnt a new set of research skills, as well as taking their book ‘beyond the facts’ by asking not only about his achievements, but also his schooling and personal life. Dr Greene also met the student who drew his portrait for the book’s cover, inspiring her about prospects for women in science.
“This personal connection was invaluable for the students, many of whom could identify with his early life and so too came to believe they could one day excel in STEM careers,” Ms Davey said. “He has really empowered them and showed them that science is about solving problems relevant in the real world.”
Ms Davey, who is now running the Bright Minds and the Young Scholars outreach programs for the Queensland Academies, also learnt an incredible amount through the process of stepping out of the boundaries of the classroom.
STEM X inspired this by introducing her to Dr Greene, and also provided teaching insight into rich hands-on learning and on connecting students with real-world science.
“STEM X broadened my world, my scientific knowledge and my own enthusiasm for what is going on out there and I am now passing that on to the students I teach,” she said.