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Finalist — Brett Murphy



Primary school students are undertaking university-level activities while breeding clownfish and endangered birds, thanks to an inspirational Townsville teacher who helps students to create their own positive difference in the world.

Belgian Gardens State School (BGSS) teacher Brett Murphy’s dedication to ensuring students have hands-on, real-world learning experiences and discover that they too can make an impact on their local environment, has led to BGSS having its own aquarium filled with 20 fish tanks; its own aviary filled with endangered finches and parrots; a clownfish breeding program which was the first of its kind in the world for a primary school; and a Green STEM Project, which sees students from across Townsville drawing life-size whales, learning about flying drones, coding Ozobots to help save sea turtles, snorkelling on Magnetic Island, and creating projects to help clear the Great Barrier Reef of marine debris.

Mr Murphy’s students have also picked up more than 70,000 pieces of rubbish from beaches over the past 15 years and were once North Queensland’s leading breeder of black-throated finches, the endangered bird now infamous for its connection with the Adani Carmichael coal mine.

The exciting range of STEM projects, and Mr Murphy’s commitment to making Science exciting and meaningful for his students, are just some of the reasons he is a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Innovation in Teaching Award.

Mr Murphy said he started off about 25 years ago with a fish tank in his classroom. The tank calmed some students, provided real-life Science lesson examples, and gave pupils responsibilities to look after the fish. The tank’s teaching success led to BGSS installing one in the library, before building Reef BG – its aquarium – with a grant Mr Murphy attained.

Reef BG is open every morning, with students and parents regularly meeting by the tanks. Students in Years 5 and 6 look after the fish, with almost two-thirds of the students volunteering to do it.

“We’ve got turtles, we’ve got coral tanks, we’ve got fish-only tanks. We breed rainbow fish and we have bred seahorses before. The big focus was breeding clownfish. We do it as an extension program now … in Year 6 because they use microscopes and count food and they have got to grow all of the food – it’s quite tricky – it’s like what they do at university; we are doing it with primary school students instead,” Mr Murphy said.

He also uses the sea animals in Reef BG for Science lessons at BGSS and other schools.

“I’m a big believer in real-life, hands-on learning. I’ve always been that way – if I can make it real, it’s so much more effective than just seeing a picture or a video,” Mr Murphy said.

For this reason, Mr Murphy also started up an endangered-bird breeding program for BGSS students in Year 4, when there is a unit of work about the life cycle of endangered species. He said the program also gave students the responsibility of taking care of the birds.

Showing his students that they can take action and make a difference to their environment is really important to Mr Murphy, who was named a World Science Festival ambassador for North Queensland this year due to his initiatives for students.

“They don’t just have to sit back and let things happen,” Mr Murphy said.

The winners of the TEACHX Awards will be announced on 29 October, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day in Australia.

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