Teachers investigate role of science in primary industries


Twenty science teachers from Armidale, Gunnedah, Guyra, Inverell, Tamworth and Walcha travelled to the University of New England recently for two days of professional development aimed at helping them keep their students in touch with opportunities for science-based employment in primary industries.

The event was part of the national Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) program, which aims to build strong and sustainable relationships between school students, teachers, and scientists and employers in local primary industries.

The teachers from NSW were joined by a teacher from Karoonda in South Australia who had won a PICSE travelling scholarship to take part in the event.

UNE houses a NSW activity centre for the PICSE program, which is a collaboration between – and funded jointly by – the Commonwealth Government, universities, regional primary industries, national primary industry organisations, and businesses. The program delivers science class activities, teachers’ professional development, teaching resources, student camps, and student industry placement programs.

The event for teachers, on the 25th and 26th of November, allowed them to interact with UNE scientists to learn about the current scientific research supporting adaptation to a changing climate in the primary industries sector, and gave them access to new ideas and resources to update their classroom teaching. Kay Lembo, the PICSE program’s Eastern Area Coordinator, who attended the event, pointed out that it had also provided them with valuable networking opportunities.

Dr Matt Cahill, Research and Development Leader for Australia and New Zealand with the international company Dow AgroSciences (DAS), spoke to the teachers about the diverse range of key roles that scientists play in R&D companies such as DAS. Dr Cahill said that the company, which has recently joined forces with the PICSE program, was looking forward to hosting its first PICSE student placement – at its Breeza field station in January – and to “building on the DAS/PICSE commitment to encourage students into science”.

The guest speaker at the dinner on the Thursday evening was Professor Annette Cowie, Director of the National Centre for Rural Greenhouse Gas Research.

Joe Pilz, the teacher from South Australia, emphasised the importance of linking science teaching in rural and regional schools with local primary industries. “We’ve got students dropping out of science in rural schools without realising that there’s a lot of science involved in rural industries,” he said. Mr Pilz said he had benefited greatly from the PICSE professional development days.

Gina Watt, from Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School in Tamworth, said that the PICSE program – which she called “a fantastic program” – was “a link to the wider world” for teachers. She remarked on its “relevance to industry”, saying that there were “opportunities out there” for students that were not being taken advantage of.

“I love this program,” said Megan Tyers from New England Girls’ School in Armidale. “You can immerse yourself in real science, and then show the students what’s really happening out there.”

Susanna Greig, the PICSE Science Education Officer based at UNE, said: “The first NSW Activity Centre for the national PICSE program was established at UNE in 2007. Since that time the program has expanded and is now working with twice the number of schools and running additional activities for school students and teachers in local schools.”