Congratulations Brooke Topelberg, Winner of the 2012 Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

Article excerpt

In 2003, Mrs Brooke Topelberg, only three years out from an education degree and just back from two years' teaching in inner London, was appointed science coordinator at Westminster Primary School, Perth. Science was a low priority at the school.

Within five years, due largely to Brooke's drive and leadership, Westminster Primary was judged Western Australia's Science School of the Year. Last year, Brooke herself became the WA Primary Science Educator of the Year.

Now she has gone one step further, winning the Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools. And she's done it with the help of puppets, a garden, good organisation, the support of her colleagues and boundless enthusiasm.

Teaching is in Brooke Topelberg's blood, quite literally. Her mother and two aunts are teachers. She says she couldn't imagine herself doing anything else. "I always wanted to become a teacher." While there was no specialisation in her degree, Brooke was always interested in science. "Our job as teachers is to educate children about the world around them--to enable them to make informed decisions. So, I believe science is very important in primary schools. And it needs to relate to everyday life, to be hands on."

She identifies the way she teaches science as, 'non-confrontational', where children don't feel under pressure to use the right language or come up with the right answer. "One example is that I use hand-held puppets to elicit discussion. The children feel quite comfortable when talking to the puppets. They're not scared or threatened about giving their views or opinions." For many of the same reasons, she often uses cartoons as well. Both approaches empower children for whom English is a second language.

Another cornerstone of her teaching is a whole-school approach. She integrates science with other learning areas. She has established science-based school projects to do with recycling resources and using water wisely--she has just been granted money to develop a school vegetable garden; and she confers with her colleagues to keep them informed of what she's doing, the teaching methods and resources she is using, and to draw on their advice. …