Fifteen Years Later. How the Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching Has Recognised Our Industry's Finest

By Gaal, Kimberley | Teaching Science, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Fifteen Years Later. How the Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching Has Recognised Our Industry's Finest


Gaal, Kimberley, Teaching Science


Footballers have the Brownlow Medal, actors have the Academy Awards: for scientists in Australia it's the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science that spotlights their incredible contribution to our nation's STEM future.

Scientists might be responsible for much of our current quality of life, but not many of them are recognised for it. Few practitioners will claim to have gone into their field for the accolades and most will use any platform provided to them to talk about their work rather than themselves, which only makes the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science all the more important. Many Australian scientists are considered to be among the best in the world in their fields and their contributions often go publicly unnoticed.

In 2002, two new awards were added to the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science to acknowledge the critical role of science teachers in contributing to Australia's scientific and technological capabilities: the Prime Minister's Prizes for Excellence in Primary and Secondary Science Teaching.

Prior to 2002, only scientists were recognised for their achievements, but through the efforts of Jan Althorp, the then Executive Director of ASTA, and the Executive Committee of that time, the federal government was lobbied to recognise the contribution of teachers to science.

It was evident that almost every scientist receiving an award enthusiastically acknowledged the positive influence of science teachers in shaping their careers. It was appropriate, therefore, to extend the awards to those individuals who inspired their students with a love and passion for science.

"As the inaugural chair of the selection committee for the Prime
Minister's Prize for Excellence in Primary and Secondary Science
Teaching, I was fortunate to lead a distinguished group of science
educators and science practitioners in developing strong selection
criteria for these awards in order to maintain the prestige that the
Prime Minister's Prizes for Science had earned." (Peter Russo, Chief
Executive Officer, ASTA, 2007-2012).

On a practical level, these prizes are nothing to sneeze at. Each one comprises a silver medallion and a grant of $50,000, awarded at a prestigious presentation dinner attended by the glitterati of Australian science and innovation. But underpinning these tangible rewards is an honour and recognition that teachers are otherwise often denied.

"The greatest reward has always been in having the opportunity to
contribute to the skill development of students and to build their
connections with science. The award, however, gave recognition for
thirty years of dedication and innovation and also enabled me to
publicly acknowledge the support of my school community and family.

"Since receiving the award, I've been invited to participate in a
short skill-sharing tour in Japan, contribute to the development of
departmental educational material in South Australia and present at
national education conferences, so my experiences have been extended
in a range of areas." (Brian Schiller, Seacliff Primary School, South
Australia--Award winner 2014).

The focus of the Prizes is the quality of teachers' classroom pedagogy, but also taken into account are the contributions recipients have made to curriculum materials, teacher professional development and providing educational experiences for science students beyond the classroom.

The recipients are great teachers, yes, but they are also great advocates for change in how science is taught.

"A good modern teacher is an educator who is prepared to embrace the
diversity of learning capabilities and styles, and who presents
themselves within a safe, collaborative learning environment. A good
modern teacher is an educator who is prepared to adapt the curriculum
to suit the learning needs of their students and at the same time
provide a learning system which is multi-disciplined and
inter-disciplined to promote engagement and enthusiasm for learning. … 

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