A winning scholarship for overseas tour

I am the Assistant Principal (Curriculum and Achievement) at Carroll College in Broulee, on the south coast of NSW. I also served on IEU Executive for many years. I have recently been awarded a NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship to undertake a study tour of the USA, Canada and Australia in January 2017.

The focus of my study tour is to investigate innovative ways to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), incorporating Project Based Learning (PBL). I will investigate how other systems and individual schools are implementing STEM teaching and learning and ways they empower students to learn. The skills that our students need to thrive in the 21st century include critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication and an ever increasing need to be able to code. STEM and PBL lend themselves perfectly to developing and enhancing these skills in our students.

Students working in a PBL framework are more likely to retain what that have learned because they are working on complex, real world problems that they see as relevant to their lives. They have multiple opportunities to apply their learning to new situations where the answers are not clear or obvious.

Students are confronted with unseen problems and obstacles along the way that require solutions before they can move forward. Working in teams to solve these problems, students develop their communication and collaboration skills. PBL requires students to cover fewer topics in greater depth with the goal of developing a deep understanding of subject matter that scientists, technology companies and business leaders require of our high school graduates.

I begin my study tour attending two education conferences, The International Science Education Conference in Hawaii and the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement Conference in Ottawa, Canada. The presenters at both conferences will share their knowledge and experiences about ways to improve student engagement and achievement using STEM and PBL.

I have organised to visit Tech Valley High School in New York State, where I will experience a two day immersion program shadowing a STEM/PBL teacher. I then travel to McKinley Technology High School and Langley Elementary School in Washington DC. These schools have developed close STEM relationships with the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian educators, the Newseum, NASA Goddard and several other programs.

In California, I will visit New Technology High School in Napa, California. This school has been teaching STEM and using PBL for 20 years now, and runs a special two day program for visiting educators from all over the world to learn about their approach to teaching and learning.

On my return to Australia, I will visit the Queensland Academies – Science, Mathematics and Technology Campus and St Hilda’s School. These schools have been successfully delivering STEM based programs for several years. I will then return to NSW and visit Canobolas Tech High in Orange. They have recently embarked on the STEM journey and I am particularly interested in learning about how they have overcome obstacles and ways of utilising technology in their STEM learning and PBL.

I encourage any teacher that has a passion for any aspect of education to have a look at, and apply for a NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship. There are a multitude of categories under which you can apply. The staff at the Department of Education are extremely helpful in assisting you to put your application together and up to five hours of the time spent on preparing your application can be counted towards your accreditation hours. I would also like to thank Samsung Technology for their generous sponsorship.

John O'Neill