Nicci Hilton, an award-winning science teacher, has won a Churchill Fellowship that will take her to the United States to pursue her vision of making classroom science more engaging for students.
Ms Hilton (pictured here), who graduated as a science teacher from the University of New England in 2006, went on to be recognised in the Australian Government Quality Schooling Awards in 2008 for her achievements in increasing students’ participation in – and enthusiasm for – science at Cowra High School, her first appointment. She also won the Minister for Education’s Medal of Distinction and UNE’s Young Distinguished Alumni Award for that year.
Now studying towards a Master of Education degree at UNE, Ms Hilton is a science teacher at PLC Armidale.
In March next year, under her Northern Districts Education Centre Churchill Fellowship, she will travel to science education centres in California, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Washington DC and New York City in her search for resources and programs that can help students engage with science by pursuing their own investigations. She will visit the National Sciences Resource Centre in Washington DC, and will speak to coordinators of the annual International Science and Engineering Fair, at which young people from around the world (including Australia) display their scientific ingenuity and inventiveness.
“My aim is to develop a scaffolding of concepts and resources that will help teachers facilitate their students’ own scientific investigations,” she explained. She’ll also be looking at innovative teaching strategies – including new methods of explaining scientific concepts.
“I’m immensely grateful to the National Churchill Trust for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said, “and I hope that many more people are encouraged to apply for a Churchill Fellowship so that they too may share their passion.”
In 2008 Ms Hilton was a member of the advisory group that produced a framework for a new national science curriculum – a framework now reflected in the Stage 1 Syllabus in some pilot schools. “We believed the syllabus needed to be holistic, because no strand of science can be taught in isolation,” she said. “It also includes a big emphasis on inquiry-based learning.”
Her guiding principle in the classroom is that “students remember memorable things”. “If an activity is engaging, they will understand and remember the process,” she said.