September 2011      
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The AGC welcomes a new president

Neil Williams

Neil Williams PSM
Professor, University of Wollongong
President, Australian Geoscience Council

It is out with the old and in with the new. My term as President of the AGC has come to an end and I will be concentrating on managing a two year feasibility study on a proposed major hydro-power scheme on the Purari River in the Gulf Province of PNG. If it proceeds, this scheme will produce hydroelectricity for use in PNG and Australia, in the latter case via underwater transmission across Torres Strait into North Queensland.

My successor as President is Dr Neil Williams PSM. Neil recently retired as the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Government's national geoscientific research and spatial information agency, Geoscience Australia (GA). He is the longest serving CEO of this body in its various incarnations (including the Bureau of Mineral Resources or BMR). Dr Williams is currently an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Wollongong.

Neil trained as an economic geologist and has a BSc Hons from the ANU and a PhD from Yale University. Following his PhD he returned to the ANU for five years as an academic researcher, specialising in the genesis of sedimentary hosted base metal deposits. He then joined Mt Isa Mines and spent ten years in mineral exploration in technical and management roles.

Dr Williams has been the recipient of various awards including the Public Service Medal and the Society of Economic Geologists' Lindgren Award. He is also a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

In Neil's acceptance of the role of President of the AGC, there is now a congruency with respect to the 34th International Geological Congress to be held in Brisbane in August 2012, where he is also the President of the 34th IGC. The congruency arises since the AGC is contractually responsible for the organising and conduct of this Congress.

We are fortunate indeed to have a geoscientist of the eminence and with the geoscience knowledge and understanding of Dr Williams as our new President.

Dr Michael Leggo
Immediate Past President, Australian Geoscience Council

Editorial

The economic situation is playing heavily on the decisions of governments all around the world. Here in Australia we have recently seen the federal government cut funding for a highly successful science education program and a state government wind back funding for vocational education in schools. All members of the education community need to be alert to the possibility of further funding cuts as these difficult times bite deeper into the national savings. While governments and governments-in-waiting play lip service to the common understanding that education is essential for a prosperous future other factors are at play and we need to be vigilant to ensure there are neither further cuts to existing programs or a lowering of the ambitions to improve education into the future.

Despite any economic woes, Australia is still progressing towards a national curriculum at a slow but steady pace. While other subjects areas are still under discussion, the Australian Curriculum: Science for F-10 is now settled and all states and territories are examining how they will match their current curricula to the national one, as set out by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). You can see where your state should be via the ACARA website and their summary document. Hopefully your on-the-ground experiences match what the states are telling ACARA!

Follow this link to read an appraisal of the Australian Curriculum: Science from an experienced educator in Queensland.

Greg McNamara - Editor, GeoEdLink
All feedback and submissions should be sent to the GeoEdLink Editor, Greg McNamara

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Geoscience Education News & Reviews

Earth Science Week is coming up!
What have you got planned for October 9 -15?

ESW poster

What are the aims of Earth Science Week?

  •   to provide students with new opportunities to discover the earth sciences
  •   to highlight the contributions of earth science to our lives
  •  to pass on the message that earth science is all around us
  •   to encourage stewardship of the Earth through an understanding of earth science
  •  to provide opportunities for geoscientists to share their knowledge and enthusiasm about Earth
  •   to have fun!

Some events!

Geologi 2011 Awards Ceremony
11 October 2011

See the winning films from Geoscience Australia's Geologi short film competition. Entries were invited from schools all over Australia for short films based on the Earth Science Week theme of theme of 'Our Ever Changing Earth'.

The official awards ceremony will be held at 11.30am on Tuesday, 11 October at Geoscience Australia cnr Jerrabomberra Ave and Hindmarsh Dr, Symonston, ACT.
It will showcase highlights from the competition and screen the winning films. This is a cinematic experience not to be missed.

Fossils of the Hunter Valley
3 - 28 October 2011

The lower Hunter Valley contains a rich diversity of fossil life forms that lived from about 250 to 300 million years ago, during the Permian period. The Geological Survey of NSW will display fossils found in the Hunter Valley region at the East Maitland Library, 3 Garnett Road, East Maitland, during the month of October to celebrate Earth Science Week's 2011 theme of 'Our Ever Changing Earth'. Read more here.

Climate science talk in Newcastle
11 October 2011

The Hunter Earth Sciences Discussion Group (HEDG) is holding its October meeting at Customs House, Newcastle at 6pm on Tuesday 11 October to coincide with Earth Science Week 2011. The speaker will be Dr Silvia Frisia (University of Newcastle) who will be presenting a talk titled 'From icehouse to greenhouse to icehouse: what is "normal" in Earth's climate?, in keeping with the 2011 Earth Science Week theme of 'Our ever-changing Earth'. Dr Frisia is a leading researcher of carbonates, and implications for palaeoclimates. Read more here.

2011 Victorian Gold Panning Championships
9 October 2011

Join the fun as Central Deborah Gold Mine hosts the Victorian Gold Panning Championships in partnership with the Victorian Gold Panning Association. The Championships are open to anyone of any age and any skill level and the first prize is a trip to compete in the 2011 New Zealand Gold Panning Championships! All visitors on the day will receive free access to the surface of the mine and for those who aren't avid gold panners the day will also include Gold Pour Demonstrations, Fossicking Challenges, Cage Rider, Underground Mine Tours and a BBQ lunch.Read more here.

Top shots on display during Earth Science Week

Top Geoshot is a photographic competition which took place in the lead up to Earth Science Week. The entries are in and winning entries will be displayed at Geoscience Australia throughout Earth Science Week. The winners will receive a professionally framed enlargement of their image. Read more here.

Earth Science Week in the classroom?

Students love a good volcano, but erupting lava in the classroom can be tricky. Why not visit one of the best Australian Earth Science education sites to find out just what you can do to celebrate Earth Science Week in the classroom?
Visit the Oresome resources site to find out more!

Aussie team 2011

On arrival at the University Hall - accommodation for the students for the Olympiad after 36 hours of travelling.
From left: Mehreen, Nikki, Jack, Eilidh

Australia tackles the International Earth Science Olympiad for the first time

High School students Eilidh Cassidy, Mehreen Qayyum, Jack Beard and Nichola Dart from South Australia, with mentors Bronte Nichols and Ian Clark, raised $19,200 - including a $7000 contribution from the AGC - to attend the 5th International Earth Science Olympiad (IESO), held in Italy this September. Other sponsors included the Geological Society of Australia - Federal Division, Australian Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia, Beach Energy, Pepinnini Minerals, Geological Society of Australia - SA Division, Flinders University and University of South Australia. This covered the student's travel costs and accommodation, team registration fee and part airfares for the two mentors.

Aussie team 2011

After the Olympiad finished, the team relaxes in Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background.

The Australian team were amongst 104 student competitors from 26 different countries accompanied by 52 mentors and a number of observers and guests. For the ten days of the Olympiad, 5th - 14th September, activities included written examinations for Geosphere, Hydrosphere, Atmosphere and Astronomy. The practical examination for Geosphere included identification of building stones in Modena's historical UNESCO World Heritage site centre; the Hydrosphere activity was conducted in the Venice Lagoon and Astronomy and Atmosphere were conducted at the University of Modena. The full program can be viewed here.

Unfortunately, one of the team members was taken to hospital on the second day of the Olympiad and remained there from the 6th - 12th of September with a serious illness. She returned to Australia on the 15th September and did not take part in the tour of southern Italy. She is making a slow recovery and the AGC and all other sponsors wish her well for a full recovery.

The results of the 5th Olympiad were a major boost to the Australian team and for future Australian participation in the IESO. Jack Beard was awarded a Bronze medal in the Individual competition and Jack Beard and Eilidh Cassidy were both part of winning teams in the International Team Field Investigations. Congratulations are in order for the whole team and the mentors who helped make it possible!

New text book aims to improve even more.

Earth Science Western Australia (ESWA) is re-writing aspects of their acclaimed 'Exploring Earth and Environmental Science' text book to ensure it is fully aligned with the Australian Curriculum: Science with a truly national perspective. This is already an excellent book and is highly recommended. Even in its current Western Australia specific format it will help all teachers prepare for the Australian Curriculum when it is adopted in their state. For a full review read The Australian Geologist, Issue 159 p39.

Good News for Earth Science

The 2010 AGC report on the state of enrolments in university Earth Science is a cause for optimism about the future of Geoscience teaching departments. Read more here.

Olympic Dam Story

In his new book, The Olympic Dam Story: How Western Mining defied the odds to discover and develop the world's largest mineral deposit, geologist David Upton has made this a story that should be readily understood by an educated lay person. AGC past president Michael Leggo says it captures very well the complexities and people interactions, and the highs and the lows of the discovery process. For any student interested in getting a sense of what mineral exploration is about, and what such a career would involve, this book provides a real example that puts life into this potential career path.
This privately published book is available from David Upton.

On-line resources - links and reviews:

CONASTA 60 Keynote Speakers on-line

The conference of the Australian Science Teachers Association (CONASTA), held this July in Darwin, marks a major step towards Australian Science teaching moving into the online world. ASTA have made all Keynote presentations available via the web and their major new online portal:
Keynote 1 - Professor Bart Currie - Infectious diseases in Tropical Northern Australia; Science Does Matter
Keynote 2 - Associate Professor Deborah Corrigan - The future of Science Education
Keynote 3 - Dr Clinton Fookes - Technology and Innovation: People, Vision and Complex Systems
Keynote 4 - Professor Ray Norris - Aboriginal Astronomy awesome images from around the globe
Keynote 5 - Associate Professor Paul Francis - Unsolved mysteries of the universe
The on-line revolution as seen at ASTA during the ASTA forum

TESEP on-line
Stage 2 of the highly successful Teacher Earth Science Education Programme commences soon with on-line PD delivery through the ASTA portal. Keep a watch on the TESEP website for details.


Living GeoDiversity - a great way to rock
LG aims to introduce students to ecological, earth and environmental sciences, by inspiring interest and inquisitiveness about the relationships among the regional geology and geomorphology, landscape processes, ecology, and environmental sustainability. Check out the http://livinggeodiversity.com/ website for details.


Critical links
Many critical aspects of school Earth Science are taught in science, geography or a bit of both. It is therefore important that both the science and geography curricula cover the subject appropriately. This site looks at the National Curriculum: Geography in detail:
http://www.ngc.org.au/


Spatial thinking just a blog away
Spatialworlds is a blog and repository of teaching resources, images, and website links for those interested in spatial education and geography in schools.
http://www.spatialworlds.blogspot.com/


More Aussies look to GeoParks
Despite the Federal Governments refusal to recognise GeoParks, some home grown attempts are still in the wings inspired no doubt by the Kananwinka experience.
http://www.westernwilderness.com.au/queenstown_geopark_project


Fun the geology student way
The 5th International Earth Science Olympiads, held in Italy recently, had everybody dancing, especially at the end of event party!
YouTube party!


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Geoscience Education Views

Funding cuts to the Australian Academy of Science confirmed

In the March edition of GeoEdLink the AGC reprinted the media release from the Australian Academy of Science concerning the Federal Government budget cuts that could see the closure of key science education programs.

The AGC is disappointed to report that efforts to avert the funding cuts have failed. Earlier this year the AGC wrote a letter of protest to the Prime Minister, copied to Minister Garrett. The response reiterated the governments position that there was no money for further funding in the education budget.

The AAS is committed to continuing to develop and roll out the programs and is exploring alternative sources of funding. Primary Connections is now in 55% of Australian Primary schools including every SA public primary school. Talks are under way to roll it out more widely in Victoria. Science by Doing has launched its first unit and development of further units is ongoing while the program directors continue to seek funding from alternative sources. The AAS continues to urge the Federal Government to support the programs but the AGC urges any potential sponsors to contact the AAS to ensure these excellent programs continue.

More information about PrimaryConnections, Science by Doing, and the scientific literacy of Australian students is available by contacting Mona Akbari (below).

Mona Akbari, Australian Academy of Science
Phone: (02) 6201 9452 | 0447 679 612
Email: mona.akbari@science.org.au

The Australian Curriculum (Science) - Opportunities exist just below the surface

ACARA's draft Science curriculum offered up for consultation in early 2010 had Earth and Environmental Science (EES) enthusiasts ecstatic with a plethora of earth science contexts including carbon capture and storage, automated mining, geophysical exploration and mine site rehabilitation suggested as elaborations across the curriculum. The final draft however has disappointed with a return to the staid curriculum most states have been implementing for 'eons' (pardon the pun), and an increased focus on astronomy rather than geology.

So, what has changed and how do we ensure that EES continues to be a focus for classroom teachers as they begin to implement the Australian Curriculum (AC)?

The AC continues to draw equally on three strands (Science Understanding, Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry) and across the science disciplines. The curriculum itself suggests that the strands are interrelated, contexts should be taught in an integrated way and that decisions about contexts should be made by the teacher. What has changed is that most of the EES contexts, including examples of cutting-edge technologies that were included as elaborations in the early 2010 draft have been omitted.

While the EES contexts and elaborations provided in the final draft of the AC in Science are no longer as explicit, nor as varied as the early draft, we have the advantage of an understanding of ACARA's interpretation of relevant topics and where they would slot into the curriculum given phases of student academic development. The role now for EES educators (various state bodies and chambers, GA, TESEP etc) is three-fold.

Firstly, to explore the curriculum for possible opportunities for elaboration in EES, secondly to consult with ACARA about the appropriateness of these elaborations and finally to provide Australian teachers (the majority of whom have little to no confidence in teaching EES related subject matter, and probably little to no knowledge of the early AC draft) with the pedagogies and resources to effectively implement relevant EES contexts in their classroom.

During the remainder of 2011, teachers and schools will be modifying existing and/or developing new work program documents in preparation for implementation of the AC from 2012. Now more than ever the opportunity exists for those bodies offering relevant teacher professional development in this area to make explicit links with the AC, consult with ACARA and provide teachers with educationally sound hands-on activities and the pedagogies and resources required to implement activities in their classrooms. It will be this effort, at a time of intense activity in schools that ensures the EES contexts that characterised the early draft are implemented by teachers with the current curriculum.

It seems an oversight that the curriculum has moved away from its original focus at a time that coincides with the greatest minerals and energy investment phase in the nation's history. Opportunities for industry engagement still exist, particularly with Science as a Human Endeavour forming one third of the curriculum. Organisations should be looking for opportunities to work closely with schools to develop integrated units of work and teaching resources to ensure the implementation of EES contexts.

The Queensland Resources Council has taken this opportunity to partner with industry and Education Queensland in development of their Virtual World. The expansion of the Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy and their activities including a dedicated Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics professional development program for their teachers, is another example of industry engagement encouraging integration of the three strands of the AC within an EES context.

The opportunities to expose Australian teachers and students to the breadth and importance of EES concepts in our understanding of important scientific issues, our ability to solve problems and the many and varied careers that exist in this field have not been lost, they have simply been buried more deeply in the Australian Curriculum. I believe the role of EES educators now is to explore the curriculum for opportunities, unearth them, and work with teachers to develop materials that will have EES contexts included as the AC is implemented in classrooms in 2012.

Tracey Lawson
Email: traceyl@qrc.org.au

Tracey Lawson works for the Queensland Resources Council, where her role includes co-ordination of a teacher professional development program for Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy teachers and industry links for schools in the southern zone of the Academy. She also provides professional development opportunities for in-service and pre-service teachers in Queensland and co-ordinates the TESEP program in the state.

Encouraging news from survey of Geoscience Departments at Australian Universities

The Australian Geoscience Council has just repeated its 2007 survey of geoscience education in Australian Universities. The principal conclusion of the latest survey is very positive, that is the status of geoscience and geoscience education in Australian universities has improved substantially over the last three years (2008-2010) with a marked growth in enrolled students and academic teaching staff, reversing the decade-long decline to 2007. In the 2007 survey there had been an increase in enrolment, particularly in levels 1 and 2 in some universities and this has now extended to all levels, particularly at the Honours level, and in many institutions.

Nationally, student enrolments as measured by Equivalent Full Time Student Load (EFTSL) have increased 25% over the last 3 years accelerating the level of growth recorded in 2007 of 20% over the previous 5 years. Most universities show increases at all levels. A major difference from the previous survey has been the substantial growth in the numbers of Honours students, which have increased nationally by 73% to 265 over the period 2008- 2010 compared with the 9% decrease in the previous 5 years and the 60% decrease in the fifteen years leading up to 2007.

Seventeen universities have the capacity to teach geoscience as a major in their undergraduate programs with an additional university offering an earth science major as part of an environment degree. Of these, 6 maintain distinct geoscience schools. In the remainder, the geoscience discipline is amalgamated into schools of 'earth, geography and environmental science' or schools of 'physical sciences'.

In addition to normal curriculum reviews, several universities have taken specific, or are planning, steps to meet the needs of potential employers by addressing the core skills requirements of graduates:
• they have made (or are in the process of making) specific teaching appointments in resource geoscience
• they have remodelled courses to meet core skills requirements and the evolution of disciplines including field geology, digital geology, minerals geoscience and petroleum geoscience.
• placements in industry as part of a course of study.
• provision of specific options and specializations in majors.

Increasingly, sharing of specialist teaching at the Honours and Masters level is becoming more common, active and systematically organised as follows:
• The national Minerals Tertiary Education Council (MTEC) program where 8 institutions teach courses into the Minerals Short Course Program.
• Three universities collaborate to deliver the MTEC Minerals Geoscience Masters program.
• The Sydney Universities Consortium of Teaching Geology and Geophysics - Honours Course Electives run by the Sydney metropolitan universities.
• The Victorian Institute of Earth and Planetary Sciences Honours Program run by Melbourne, Latrobe, Monash and Ballarat.

Whereas in the 2007 survey it was not possible to discern any significant trends in post-graduate degrees, the addition of 3 years of data clearly shows some major changes. The output of MSc/MPhil degrees by research has declined by over 50% whilst the output of MSc degrees based on coursework has seen a dramatic increase, which appears to be accelerating - up 250% in 2010 compared with 2007. In the five years leading up to 2007, the output of PhD degrees had remained generally static, but since 2007 there has been a decline of about 15%.

In 2010, 256 academic staff are engaged in some level of teaching of geoscience in Australian universities whilst there are a further 183 staff engaged in research with no formal teaching commitments. The numbers in 2007 were 170 and 187 respectively. The dramatic difference is dominated by a significant change in reporting from the ANU following internal re-organisation. Removing the ANU, nationally there has been an increase in 22 (13%) staff engaged in teaching whilst the number of research positions has increased by 18 (13%).

Consistent with the increase in teaching positions amongst the 'geoscience' schools, there are now 8 (3 in 2007) schools with more than 12 teaching positions, 5 (12 in 2007) with 8-12 teaching positions and 4 (4 in 2007) with less than 8 teaching positions. The combination of teaching and research positions shows a wide range in capability between the 'geoscience' universities with 2 having in excess of 40 geoscience positions, 4 having between 30 - 40 positions, 3 having 20-30 positions, 6 having between 10 and 20 positions and 2 having below 10 positions.

The survey shows that while Australian institutions vary widely in their viability as teaching institutions, there has been a general strengthening of 'geoscience schools' as student numbers have increased. Funding pressures remain in some institutions. In others the rapid increase in student numbers, although sometimes accompanied by expansion of teaching staff, is causing an increase in teaching loads at a time of turnover of the 'baby boomer' generation of academics. The decline in PhD output must have a financial impact on departments and, if it continues, must be a concern for the long-term viability of geoscience research in Australian universities.

In general the position has improved substantially since 2007, but it remains a truism that a critical mass of teaching and research capability that creates a vibrant and attractive educational experience is fundamental to retaining tertiary geoscience educational opportunities in Australia. This survey shows that some larger schools with wide capability are growing from strength to strength, whilst others with lesser capability are static or reducing.

The entire report can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Trevor Powell
Email: tpowell@grapevine.net.au

Trevor Powell is a former president of the AGC

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Geoscience Education Events & Activities

2012 National Science Teachers Summer School (NSTSS)
Applications close September 30! Look here for more information.


Earth Science Week, 9-15 October, 2011
Look here for more information.


National Water Week, 16-22 October, 2011
Look here for more information.


TESEP QLD workshops, 3,4,5 & 7 October, 2011
PD7 - Our Place in Space
Look up the calendar for more information.


TESEP SA workshop, 26 October, 2011
PD5 - Wet Rocks
Look up the calendar for more information.


TESEP NSW workshop, 28 October, 2011
PD5 - Wet Rocks
Look up the calendar for more information.


3rd Global GeoTourism Conference, 30 October - 1 November, 2011
Tourism on a Plate!
Explore http://www.geotourism.om/geo/index.html to find out more.


STANSW 7-12 Curriculum Conference, 25 November, 2011
Responding to the Australian Curriculum – Science
Look here for more information.


Science Teachers Association of Victoria Conference - STAVCON, 28-29 November, 2011
Look here for more information.


Future Science Conference 2011 - STAWA, 2 December, 2011
Look here for more information.


TESEP VIC workshop, 5 December, 2011
PD5 - Wet Rocks
Look up the calendar for more information.


TESEP VIC workshop, 9 December, 2011
PD7 - Our Place in Space
Look up the calendar for more information.


STAWA Primary Science Conference 2012, 17-18 March, 2012
Look here for more information.


Science Teachers Association of Victoria VCE Science Subject Conferences - Feb 17, 20 & 24 2012
Look here for more information.


34th Session of the International Geological Congress (IGC) 5-12 August, 2012
This may seem a long way off but it is guaranteed to be a big event with something for everyone. Super early bird registration closes September 30, 2011!
Register now - you know you want to.


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