Teachers keen to inspire students about primary industry careers

Published 29 November 2012

Twenty-five science teachers from secondary schools as far away as Sydney, Mudgee and Coffs Harbour spent two days at the University of New England this week learning about current research to help ensure the continuing supply of high-quality food.

From within the New England North West region, the teachers came from Inverell, Walcha, Guyra, Gunnedah, Tamworth, Warialda and Armidale.

The professional development event, organised by the Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE), a national program with a centre based at UNE, enabled the teachers to interact with scientists at the cutting edge of research supporting food security. They were able to share not only a wealth of new information, but also resource materials and activity ideas for the classroom.

Many of the participants have been attending these PICSE events at UNE ever since they were initiated some years ago, and they said they had found them an effective means of alleviating professional isolation. While the high-school curriculum is kept in mind, the program also helps teachers to explore current science-related issues: for example, the science behind coal seam gas was explored, assisting the teachers to further the understanding of their students.

Sheila Peres da Silva, who travelled from Sydney on a PICSE travelling scholarship, said: “I’ve learnt so much! It was the best professional development event I’ve ever been to…and I’ve been to many over the years.”

Over the two days, teachers interacted with leading researchers from around the region, learning about innovations in food production (including the UNE SmartFarm), and regional and global food security issues and solutions. They were also introduced to new resources – including laboratory activities – developed by PICSE. “These had the UNE Agronomy and Soil Science laboratory buzzing with activity and ideas,” said the manager of the UNE PICSE program, Susanna Greig.

Those contributing to the event included Dr Isa Yunusa, Dr Chris Guppy, Professor David Lamb, Dr Mark Trotter, Dr Ken Geenty, Associate Professor Paul Ashley and Dr Sue Wilson from UNE, Dr Sharon Downes from CSIRO Ecosystem’s Australian Cotton Research Institute, Dr Ross Jenkins from Niche Environment and Heritage, Belinda Pine and Meredith How from the Department of Education and Communities, and Professor John Crawford from the University of Sydney. Professor Crawford, who was the speaker at the event’s special dinner, chaired the committee responsible for funding much of the research on sustainable agriculture, diet and health in the UK.

“These events really are valuable opportunities for teachers to be updated on current research developments, enabling them to pass this information on to their students,” Susanna Greig said. “And it’s a terrific opportunity for us to work with teachers in helping their students to find out about science-based careers linked to primary industries.”

PICSE is a national collaboration between – and is funded jointly by – the Commonwealth Government, universities, regional primary industries, national primary industry organisations, and businesses. It works to build strong and sustainable relationships between school students, teachers, universities and local scientists and employers associated with primary industries.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed above shows Deb Snaith from McIntyre High School, Inverell, and Dave Saunders from Orara High School, Coffs Harbour, engaged in a laboratory activity at UNE. It expands to include Jo Kirkby from Walcha Central School and Susanna Greig.