INNOVATION IN TEACHING
FORMER MARINE ECOLOGIST IGNITES STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN SCIENCE
Students travel more than 1000km to Townsville to take part in an incredible STEM conference led by a finalist in state teaching awards, who has also helped inspire almost one-third of his school’s students to become Great Barrier Reef (GBR) guardians.
The dynamic, hands-on, real-world experiences that former Marine Ecologist and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Ranger and Team Leader Christopher Pacey has introduced at St Patrick’s College, and linked students state-wide to, are just some of the reasons he is a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Innovation in Teaching Award.
Mr Pacey started as a Science teacher at the all girls’ school in 2014 before working with his principal to introduce Marine Science, to give pupils increased opportunities to engage with the GBR and Science in general. In Mr Pacey’s classrooms there are fish tanks filled with coral ecosystems, which are used as real-life lesson examples, while the fish tank glass can serve as a whiteboard.
The range of experiences St Patrick’s students are able to participate in as part of the Reef Guardian Club and Marine Studies has expanded exponentially under Mr Pacey. Students travel to Magnetic and Orpheus islands to undertake voluntary scientific work and research. They attend one-day workshop, like Coral Reef Ecology, run by experts. They participate in annual Clean-Up Australia Days and other environmental events and are linked to partnerships with James Cook University and the GBR Marine Park Authority. Mr Pacey said there were two main advantages to the GBR experiences.
“Firstly, it just increases awareness, increases discussion, increases students’ thinking about their impact and other people's impact, and how and why we might address that. Then there are also some really practical skills we're getting from it as well, whether that's being able to collect data underwater or physically removing algae from coral to give it an advantage, or physically removing plastic and other waste products from the environment,” Mr Pacey, who has also been appointed to various Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority assessor roles, said.
One of the most exciting experiences on offer for students has attracted pupils from locations ranging from Brisbane to Mount Isa to Cairns – the ‘STEM Like a Pat’s Girl’ Conference. It features workshops run by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Queensland universities.
“One of the workshops run by the ADF looks at an Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Mission; it looks at how to address key STEM challenges such as provision of shelter, fresh water and medical facilities,” Mr Pacey said. “The ADF also run a counter-explosives hazards workshop where participants focus on search capability and uncovering dangerous objects. Students use metal detectors, sniffer dogs and human brain power to learn about the science and technology behind explosives that lay beneath the surface, how to detect them, how to undertake a search to create a safe path and how to interrogate and collect evidence.”
Since Mr Pacey started as his College’s Head of Faculty – Science, the number of students choosing Science subjects has skyrocketed between 40 and 285 per cent. Marine Science students have also been able to qualify for ‘Advance Standing’ in Marine Science at James Cook University.
Mr Pacey, whose mother, father, sister, sister-in-law, uncle and aunt are all teachers, said while teaching was a job that never finished, it was definitely his most rewarding career.
“Nothing quite compares to the reward that you get when students ‘get it’ – when you see students struggle and then succeed – it’s heartening. In a classroom, there are constant rewarding moments,” he said.
“You’ve got an opportunity to shape and evolve how the future thinks, as well as become a part of the process as you learn from how students interpret the world.”
The winners of the TEACHX Awards will be announced on 29 October, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day in Australia.