There is a concept in Science education called ‘science capital’. This is a measure of the total experiences young people have in Science. It enables them to see themselves and to understand, use and work on science. Business and governments want to promote STEM careers to build Australia’s skilled workforce, so that our country can grow in innovation and problem solving, but promotion is useless unless students can see themselves in those roles.
Our Year 9 BrainSTEM team recently had a visit to the RMIT microscopy labs. They got to visit a research laboratory, a Biosafety Level 2 Laboratory, so the team had to enter through an airlock and wear full PPE – which was pretty exciting for us all.
Every time our students put on their lab gear and use the lab equipment, they build science capital and identity, but it is a battle against the corrosive effects of voices in their networks that say ‘science is hard, I can’t do science.’
During the holidays I spoke at the National Science Teachers Conference in Canberra about the ways that informal science communication can enrich science learning. Research from a decade ago found that 95% of every adult’s science knowledge was learned AFTER they finished school. This is why science at school is so important. It lays the foundations for success at work, in personal health behaviours, civic responsibility and in recreation. The keynote speaker was Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt who is the Vice Chancellor of ANU. He spoke about the importance of students having a broad range of skills, especially the so-called soft skills: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and coding.
Earlier in the semester, we had nine teams of students compete in the Royal Australian Chemical Institute’s Titration Stakes Competition. Students, in teams of three, completed a series of two titrations to determine the concentration of a vinegar sample. Our highest performing team was Alyssa B. Year 12 (LJVA), Imogen C. Year 12 (AGGL) and Ailish H. Year 12 (MMWI). They came 20th in the state (218 teams competed) and received a Silver Medal for their performance. As the highest performing OLMC team they were therefore this year’s winners of the OLMC Perpetual Titration Stakes Trophy. Three additional teams were awarded Bronze Medals based on the accuracy of their combined results.