An internationally accomplished scientist who is using her real-world expertise to bring science alive for Townsville students is a finalist in state teaching awards.
Dr Susanne Sprungala creates small controlled explosions to teach chemical reactions or uses lollies and chocolate to teach volcano eruptions and plate tectonics, and hosts astronomy nights with parents. The former geneticist’s postdoctoral research in coral genetics investigated how living organisms work at the molecular level, which has led to her being able to find structure in any challenge.
Her scientific ability to break down how things work has made a significant impact at Kirwan State High School (KSHS), and this is just one of the reasons she is a finalist in the Queensland College of Teachers Excellence in Beginning to Teach TEACHX Award.
Dr Sprungala’s focus is on every student having a chance to become what they want to be. Undertaking a project with the North Queensland Beginning Leaders program, Dr Sprungala worked with other teachers to improve communication strategies and classroom management. Consistency amongst her fellow staff was key to the new strategies.
“Once the kids understood that we teachers are working together, they started working together and started working with us, and then we could go back to the teaching,” she said.
Techniques included the introduction of small cues to let students take responsibility for their own behaviour.
The former researcher said senior teachers encouraged her to run with the project.
“You can make changes early in your career and those changes can have huge impact if you have the right people backing you up,” the co-leader of KSHS’s STEM club said.
Her engaging teaching has led to behavioural incidents halving in her Year 7 Science class, with 48 per cent achieving Very High Achievement grades in 2019. In all but two of her classes since she started teaching four years ago, 100 per cent of her students have received an A to C grade in assessments.
Dr Sprungala is also involved in the school’s Indigenous Science Education Program (CSIRO), where they are taking aspects of an Indigenous way of life and teaching the science behind it. During the October school holidays this year she visited India for the Australia-India Bridge School Partnerships program, to develop long-lasting sustainability projects between KSHS and their partner school Shiv Nadar, Gurgaon.
Dr Sprungala wants students to recognise the impact anyone can make even in the smallest of measures.
When a student comes up and tells her they want to be in her science class again, this small exchange looms large in her mind.
“It’s these little things that make up the big picture I’m proud of,” she said.
As a finalist, Dr Sprungala received $500 for professional development.