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Finalist — Matthew Lourigan



Students have floated in zero gravity, designed solar ovens for developing countries, stared at the stars in astronomy nights, and led their school’s Science Week, thanks to an inspirational awards finalist who has driven up the number of girls studying senior Science subjects, and their results, at his school.

Matthew Lourigan’s ability to engage students – and his entire Loreto College Coorparoo (LCC) community – through exciting, thought-provoking and innovative activities and programs, is just one of the reasons he is a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Excellence in Teaching Award.

The LCC Head of Curriculum – Science, who also lectures at the University of Queensland and is a Lead Endorser for Physics with the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority, is behind an increase in student results and in the number of students choosing to study senior Science subjects at the school.

An extraordinary 80 per cent of Mr Lourigan’s Physics students attained an A grade last year, up from 27.5 per cent in 2011, when he began teaching at the College. Other student Science results are up across the board at the school. There has also been a 90 per cent increase in Senior Physics enrolments, a 38 per cent increase in Senior Biology and a 37 per cent increase in Senior Chemistry, over the same time period.

Mr Lourigan said when he arrived at the school, he had hoped to increase the number of students studying Physics and choosing STEM-related careers.

“If they were good at science they tended to go into medicine or those health fields. My goal was to say, ‘Hey, that’s not all you can do if you’re good at science – how about looking at engineering, or pure science research or design’,” Mr Lourigan said. “So, that’s something I’ve been really working hard at, and looking back at the records we have for our alumni, the good thing, whether that’s due to my work or just the shift in the culture out there, is there are certainly a lot more graduates from Loreto going into those other fields in STEM,” he said.

His attempts to engage students in Science are endless. Under his leadership, Science teachers use ClickView video tutorials, which students can view from home, and a Hovercam in classes to make presentations more interesting. There are photos of famous scientists all around his classrooms to prompt discussions. Students have travelled to NASA and floated in the space station’s zero gravity tank. Pupils also help design solar ovens, which are used in Timor-Leste, and cook in them during Science Week.

“It’s about showing how science can be applied in real life, to improve people’s lives,” he said.

Mr Lourigan links pupils with the University of Queensland so that they can become Science Week Ambassadors and created a Year 10 elective subject called Preparatory Chemistry and Physics.

“We have definitely found a big difference in Year 11 Chemistry and Physics with the girls who have gone through that … it has been a really big plus for our senior Science program,” Mr Lourigan said.

The College hockey coach also works hard to ignite a passion for science in his students’ families. He has filmed video walk-throughs of laboratories, held family astronomy nights and, in collaboration with his students, posts surprising science facts in newsletters and morning notices for the entire school community.

In recent student surveys, 100 per cent of pupils said Mr Lourigan fostered positive classroom relationships and that he valued student engagement and their wellbeing. At his previous Catholic college, Mr Lourigan was appointed as the first male Pastoral Coordinator in the school’s history due to his dedication and care.

“As the years go on, you realise that you’ve had a positive impact on literally hundreds of lives,” Mr Lourigan said. “That’s what really makes a difference – that you’re helping people; you’re performing a really important role in society and making a difference,” he 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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