Kinglake Primary leads the way on engaging with science

​Kinglake Primary School's students recently became published academic authors thanks to program placing scientists in schools.

Students from Kinglake Primary School in Victoria's northeast recently achieved a goal many scientists work for their entire careers.

After working with ecologist Billy Geary, some Year 5/6 students from the class of 2016 co-authored an article published in the reputable journal Austral Ecology in May.

The CSIRO's STEM Professionals in Schools program is one of the first initiatives introduced to the school by the principal, Deborah Keating, when she arrived at the end of 2015.

'It's important to me that children are learning about science, particularly our young girls,' Mrs Keating says.

'This has been a fantastic experience for the kids, fantastic experience for the school, and a great way to link our real-life scientists with our students.'

The students' accomplishment

Having been paired with Billy, Kinglake Primary School linked the project – which looked at pollinators in their natural habitat – with the curriculum, through the inquiry unit of Science, biology and chemistry.

In collaboration, Billy and scientists based at five other schools across Victoria, NSW and the ACT designed the experiment. He joined the students and their teacher Justine Forsyth in undertaking the experiment in the forest on school grounds, collecting the data, identifying different insects under microscopes, and tallying and representing their data in graphs.

Kinglake students, together with Billy, the other schools and other scientists involved, then wrote a research paper that was published in May this year. To read the journal article, see: Citizen science in schools: Engaging students in research on urban habitat for pollinators

Top tips for science teaching

Kinglake was one of the worst-affected towns in the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Mrs Keating says working outside the classroom 'absolutely' helped students reconnect with their natural environment.

'It's about hands-on learning – taking the curriculum and making it into hands-on experience,' Mrs Keating says.

'It's also cross-curricula – there's obviously the science, while also integrating literacy and numeracy as well.'

When it comes to getting young kids involved in science, Billy agrees.

'The biggest thing is to make it as fun as possible, and you can make it engaging by doing projects like the one we did,' Billy says.

'You can do it simply – ours was a very low-cost project.'

'I think it always helps to get out of the classroom, to get into hands-on activities, rather than sitting in the classroom reading textbooks.'

'Another key goal was to teach the students about some important species like pollinators, and understanding where species occur and why it's important to conserve them.'

Mrs Keating has a background working as a scientist herself, and says connecting with scientists can make all the difference in inspiring students to learn and think about a career in science.

'Have a go with connecting with our experts, and making some of those jobs that children hear about real. It's not someone else's job – it brings validity to the word 'science'.'

How your school can get involved

Despite its size, Kinglake Primary School – which has a student population of 82 from Prep to Year 6 – has led the way when it comes to engaging in science.

'It can be perceived that little regional schools often get left behind, but just because you're in a small regional community it doesn't mean your children are missing out on a quality education,' Mrs Keating says.

Your school can get involved too.

The CSIRO program, now known as STEM Professionals in Schools, partners schools with a scientists to help their students learn new skills, confidence and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and bring the school curriculum to life.

For more information, see STEM Professionals in Schools and apply here

Find out more about how STEM is taught in school at VicSTEM.