BHP Billiton Science Teacher Awards

Article excerpt

The prestigious BHP Billiton Science Teacher Awards are awarded annually to one teacher from each state of Australia. The awards recognise and value the time and effort that teachers give to the profession and to students conducting scientific research projects. This paper examines the Science Award scheme to identify the characteristics common to these innovative teachers in science. The data is drawn from interviews with seven award-winning teachers plus the judges of the scheme. The data indicated that quality teaching was evident in their practice--valuing students' ownership of their work, doing authentic science investigations and showcasing their work.

INTRODUCTION

Anecdotally, science awards have been said to achieve a lot for the advancement of science and science education worldwide. However, there is little research which actually verifies the stories. Internationally, there are a number of award schemes for teachers of science: in America (the National Science Teachers Association awards: CIBA, Shell, Intel); in UK (Association for Science Education Awards) and Europe (the European Science Teachers Awards), to name just a few. The large number of awards across the world suggests a shared aim to value and acknowledge exemplary science teaching. There are a select few national awards in Australia for science teaching, including BHP-Billiton Science Teachers Awards, the Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools, the Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools, Australian Academy of Science Teacher Awards 2010, Ruth Dircks ASTA Scholarship to CONASTA, and there are also State Science Teachers Association Awards.

Award schemes provide opportunities for partnerships between government, private and business sectors--all supporting and acknowledging the importance of high-quality education for our future. The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD, 2010) claims that "awards showcase the outstanding achievements and practice of teachers, leaders and support staff." (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), 2010). (http://www.education. vic.gov.au/about/events/ vsmea/ guidelines.htm). This paper is based on research into the BHP-Billiton Science teacher Awards, and draws on the data from award winning teachers to identify characteristics and experiences of the outstanding teachers who win such awards to examine the impact of such awards.

THE BHP pgLITON SCIENCE TEACHER AWARDS SCHEME

The national BHP Billiton Science Teacher Awards' scheme has been an important part of the Australian Science Awards' landscape for 28 years. The Award scheme is a partnership between BHP Billiton, CSIRO and The Australian Science Teachers' Association (ASTA). The Science Teacher Association in each state and territory in Australia and the national organisation run by CSIRO called CREativity in Science and Technology (CREST) run award competitions. The BHP Awards scheme builds on these national, states and territories science awards schemes.

The BHP Billiton Science Teachers Awards scheme promotes teaching science through open-ended student investigations, which is in line with the Science Inquiry Skills strand of the Australian national science curriculum. The aims of the BHP Billiton Awards are:

1. To improve student communication skills through preparation of reports, posters and dialogue with judges;

2. To increase the number of students continuing science at a senior level;

3. To improve the view that primary school students have of science;

4. To increase the number of students choosing to study science at tertiary level and/or take up careers in science and engineering;

5. To increase science teacher professional experience through increasing the amount of inquiry-based science teaching and learning and effective assessment practices in schools; and

6. …