Full STEAM ahead at Lilydale High School

Lilydale High School Learning Specialist Tony Vallance won Teacher of the Year at the Australian Education Awards

Tony Vallance
Tony Vallance

When Tony Vallance's name was read at the Australian Education Awards, he was so surprised that he had to be called twice to the stage.

Lilydale High School Learning Specialist Tony Vallance won Teacher of the Year for his outstanding contributions and for championing the school's STEAMworks (science, technology, engineering and arts) learning space.  

'This is a huge personal and professional achievement,' Tony says. 'I think it's something to be collectively celebrated at our school - and for our state education system for giving us the opportunities we've had to make change.'

Creating a STEAM space

With a background in teaching biology and a passion for technology, Tony's inspiration to create STEAMworks came from visiting Yarra Ranges Tech School. Seeing the way technology could be used to bridge the gap between theory and practice was something Tony wanted to see at his own school.

Lilydale High School students use a drone
Lilydale High School students use a drone

Tony brought robotics, 3D printing, virtual reality, drones and more for his STEAMworks space. Putting them in the hands of students, he helped them apply it to real world problems. Students have worked on STEAM projects with Zoos Victoria and the "hospital of the future" with Yarra Ranges Tech School.

'If learning is rooted in the real world and if it has some practical application, the opportunities are endless,' Tony says.

Tony's next big project at STEAMworks is a collaborative advanced virtual environment (CAVE) – a virtual reality classroom where multiple classes can work together. 'Now students can take a virtual tour to any place in the world or design prototypes in VR to be 3D printed into hands on creations,' Tony says.

'It's the ultimate excursion with no permission slips. I was able to take students to Hawaii, Macchu Picchu and the International Space Station. Experiencing their learning brought it to a whole new level.'

Tony's goal is to improve education.

'We need to move away from "copy down and regurgitate" and get kids thinking critically, working in teams and communicating,' Tony says. 'We're trying to get kids as hands on and focused as they can be.'

'My goal is for students to never ask "when are we going to use this?"'

Building interest in STEAM

Tony says that empathy helped him break through to his students. They hold regular meetings at the start of class to discuss the lesson plan and tools they're going to use.

'Acknowledging students individually helps them feel witnessed and to build this connection to the classroom as a safe space,' Tony says.

'I saw them become empowered, take over their learning and run with it. These are the moments I'm most proud of them.'

STEAMworks is so popular that Tony set up a lunchtime clubs so students can use the space outside of class. 'They're passionate because they own what they're doing,' he says.

'When you see what the kids can produce, what they're capable of, and how far they can take their learning with ownership of tasks and challenges - they do amazing work.'


Tony also set up the STEAMQueens — a girls-only lunchtime club to encourage female students to participate in STEAM subjects and industries. The program is led by female teachers.

'We noticed low levels of engagements [of girls] in middle and senior school so we wanted to turn that around,' Tony says.

'It's been really cool to see them grow their confidence. They're becoming experts in their own field and working with everyone else.'

See all of the Australian Education Award Winners.

In Victoria, we're celebrating teaching excellence at our upcoming Victorian Education Excellence Awards.