A Perth geoscientist who is taking science out of the classroom and turning it into a hands-on experience – particularly for remote area students – has been praised for her nomination among this year’s Australian of the Year awards in Canberra.
Ms Suzy Urbaniak was Western Australia’s nominee in the Australian of the Year – Local Heroes award category.
The Local Hero award acknowledges extraordinary contributions made by Australians in their local community – with Ms Urbaniak currently making significant inroads into science education in WA’s Pilbara region.
Ms Urbaniak has established a teaching program known as the Centre of Resources Excellence (CoRE).
CoRE encourages students to be equipped with the right skills and knowledge to take on a variety of career pathways in science and engineering, so that the classroom is treated more as a workplace where students can focus on evolving as young scientists.
Video: Suzy Urbaniak talks about her career and the philosophy behind CoRE.
Ms Urbaniak said that CoRE is all about turning a classroom into a room full of young scientists, rather than students learning from textbooks.
‘School and university textbooks teach theory, but hands-on experience enables a student to get a real sense of inquiry, investigation and solution outcomes by better connecting the classroom environment directly with what is happening in the real world,’ Ms Urbaniak said.
Although she did not win the category’s outright top honor, Ms Urbaniak’s nomination brought praise today from the peak body for Australia’s 8000 geoscientists — the Australian Geoscience Council (AGC), of which AusIMM is a member. AGC said CoRE had brought relevance, excitement and aspiration into science classrooms across the country through its hands-on approach, a fundamental need in understanding the Earth and its importance to our past and future.
The program has also had the additional benefit of further empowering science educators to adopt a different approach. Ms Urbaniak said CoRE focuses on providing a fundamental and necessary skillset for the future.
‘The future Australian science and engineering workforce is sitting in our classrooms today. At the end of the working life of the preschool class of 2020, these students will be seeing the beginning of the 22nd century.
‘CoRE is a philosophy, not just another STEM program. The current education system is no longer working satisfactorily. There is an urgent need to change our education system because the future is already here.
‘Our current 19th century model for education is not ready for that future as we have not yet prepared our educators, schools and communities to support these young people to thrive, not just survive that future.’
Ms Urbaniak said the CoRE learning philosophy mapped a practical pathway for real-world learning and practical solutions to this national challenge.
‘As educators, it is up to us to build future skills, attitudes and attributes in our students focused on practical real-world learning and to embrace creativity and challenges to fixed learning methodologies.’
Video: Watch CoRE students in Iceland investigating the geological marvel that is ‘the land of fire and ice’.
AGC’s Past President, Dr Bill Shaw, said Ms Urbaniak’s nomination had drawn attention to the need for those bedding down Australia’s future national education curricula to ensure the inclusion of good basic science in all future policy settings.
‘Science and technology will empower societal growth in what will inevitably be an even more rapidly changing world in the future,’ Dr Shaw said.
‘Taking science learning into a more enriched, hands-on and self-responsible environment will attract more students to these exciting professions and help ensure Australia has the skillsets to play a major – if not leading – role in what will be increasingly seamless global industries, careers and professions.’
Feature image: Suzy Urbaniak. Photo: Salty Dingo.
Find out more
Australian of the Year www.australianoftheyear.org.au