Active science education

by Kate C
Publish date
23 December 2011
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This week the Australian Academy of Sciences (AAS) released a study that presents some interesting figures on the declining number of year 11 and 12 students in Australia who are studying science – it was a hot topic in the Museum Victoria offices!

The name of the report, The Status and Quality of Year 11 and 12 Science in Australian Schools, may be a bit dry, but the findings are very relevant to us all.

One of the main recommendations was to involve students in science at an earlier age and to make learning about science an active experience as opposed to a spectator experience. This approach is very dear to the museum, so as the year draws to a close, we asked some of our experts in science education to give their highlights of programs that actively engage students in science.


Priscilla Gaff, Program Coordinator - Life Sciences, Melbourne Museum

'I enjoyed the program, because even though it was about science it was turned into something fun,' said a Year 9 student after participating a new science and multimedia program at Melbourne Museum, 600 million years in 60 seconds.

Ouch! The science-loving teacher within me is astounded that the quote doesn't read more along the lines of 'because it was science it was fun'. But the realist within me knows that that actually this quote offers cause for celebration, especially in light of the new report from the AAS showing the dramatic fall in the number of students choosing to study science.

In 600 Million Years in 60 Seconds, groups of three students are given a mission: to produce a 60 second science clip about evolution to show to the rest of their class... in 25 minutes! And they do it – fabulously! – using the real objects and research on display in 600 Million Years: Victoria evolves.

Secondary school students completing education program. Secondary school students using cameras and movie-making kits as part of 600 million years in 60 seconds.
Image: James Geer
Source: Museum Victoria

education program movie-making kit. The education program movie-making kit.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

This program offers this age group exactly what the report recommends: science education that captures the interest of year 7 to 10 students. It allows students to be creators and investigators, rather than simply consumers of facts.


Pennie Stoyles, Public Programs Manager, Scienceworks

Two years ago the team at Scienceworks changed the ways we communicate with students about science. The aim was to develop programs that encourage students not to think of science in a fixed way, but rather approach it as one does problem-solving – by making mistakes and learning from them. This is how Scienceworks promotes 'active science' in education.

For example, our Experiment Zone provides hands-on enquiry-based science and maths activities for students from across Victoria – and it features chemicals and robots (what more can you ask for?). In 2011 we've seen students from years 3 to 6 investigate soil chemistry by devising a fair test to measure water retention.

Benjamin Quint studies a model robot Benjamin Quint studies a model robot controlled by an iPad from the Robot Reboot education program at Scienceworks.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Middle year students have used data loggers to measure, record and analyse physical phenomena and to better understand graphing as a scientific and mathematical tool.

Life sized models and puzzles inspired students to actively learn about problem solving as a mathematical process... and then we have the previously mentioned robots.

Robots were used to find 'hidden treasure' in a program where students also learn about problem solving and the use of robots in the mining industry. The idea was to get students programming the robots, and in the process making mistakes and trying again.

The skills learnt in these programs encourage engagement with science, and help students to translate the information into real life problem solving.


Mirah Lambert, Online Learning Manager, Museum Victoria

student participating in the Biodiversity Snapshots fieldwork project.
A student from Lara Primary School participating in the Biodiversity Snapshots fieldwork project.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

It seems almost everyone has a mobile device nowadays, so why not tap into that in learning? Biodiversity Snapshots is a mobile tool that enables students to observe and report biodiversity in their school, local park or bushland. It contains a field guide with more than 650 species, observation reports and the ability to upload data.

Biodiversity Snapshots was developed by Museum Victoria to assist students and teachers to take field trips and report on their local fauna. It is intended that a broad range of environments in south-eastern Australia will be surveyed, including urban, bushland and coastal areas.

With nearly 1000 observations reported, and almost 200 species identified, Biodiversity Snapshots has demonstrated that through the use of mobile technology, primary and secondary students can build environmental awareness and become real citizen scientists.


At Museum Victoria, we encourage students to investigate, construct and test explanations about the natural world using real specimens, experiments and new media. We hope that by continuing our work in this area we can help more students get excited about science!


Bridge Building

Biodiversity Snapshots

The Status and Quality of Year 11 and 12 Science in Australian Schools (PDF, 2.41 MB, via Australian Academy of Sciences)

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.