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Gerri Bernard


Thanks to a state teaching award finalist, high school students’ photographs of stars, nebulae and other celestial bodies are set to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Inspirational Science teacher Gerri Bernard has been instrumental in incorporating high-powered telescopes and astrophotography into the Science curriculum at Brisbane Girls Grammar School (BGGS), where she inspires a love of astronomy, physics, engineering, and general science in students.

Ms Bernard’s dedication to creating “awe and wonder” in Science lessons, and her efforts to have some of her students become published researchers before they even graduate, are just some of the reasons she is a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Innovation in Teaching Award.

Ms Bernard said BGGS students’ interest in space had flourished since the school had introduced its telescopes at its Dorothy Hill Observatory.

“What I try to do is constantly show how exciting everything is that we're talking about – even if on paper it might look a little boring. If I get really excited about it, they will get really excited about it,” she said.

“Astrophotography has a beautiful scientific side, but it also has an artistic side,” Ms Bernard said. “On one hand, students can make their pictures look very ‘realistic’ to represent what we would see with our eyes if we could see objects that far away, but on the other hand a lot of them take it in a completely different direction; they put all sorts of pretty colours in there, they make it look the way that they want to, and we’re OK with that too because they are expressing their creativity through scientific endeavour,” she said.

The school now has two astronomy clubs: one for Years 7 to 10 and one for senior students called the Student Teacher Astronomy Research Symposium (STARS).

“It's for the older girls and it's research-focused, so instead of just reviewing that basic astronomy knowledge, what those girls are doing is using the telescopes to do actual astronomy research, which they're then going to turn into published papers,” Ms Bernard said. “The goal is for students to publish in a resource called the Journal of Double Star Observations – it's a student-focused journal, but it is an astronomical journal that’s peer-reviewed.”

Ms Bernard, who has had her own research published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal as a result of her work with the telescopes, is well-known for her dynamic lessons, whether it be mixing baking soda with vinegar or drawing live electrical circuits on a notebook.

Having arrived in Australia from the United States of America and initially working as a BGGS Lab Technician, Ms Bernard said she found herself wanting to make a difference through teaching.

“I love that spark that you see in their eyes when they finally get a concept that they've been struggling with,” the Head of Curriculum Development for Science said, adding she also likes to inspire students to go on to study Physics and Engineering at university.

“Teaching one of the most rewarding things that I've done in my life. I've had lots of different kinds of jobs from being a waitress to being a lab researcher, and the instant feedback that you get from your students: there's nothing better.”

Winners of the TEACHX Awards will be announced on October 28, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day celebrations in Queensland. Finalists win $500, and winners $5000, for professional development.

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