June 2010      
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Maintaining a skilled workforce in Australia

Michael Leggo

I have a very active interest in the maintenance of a workforce of appropriate skills and size to support the high standard of living we enjoy in Australia. Because of my background this interest is strongly directed toward the generation of an adequate supply of well educated engineers and scientists. The development of a suitable national curriculum by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is critical in this process, both to encourage the continuation of a student's involvement in science and mathematics studies at a senior secondary school level and also to provide a solid platform for subsequent higher education.

I have reviewed and commented on ACARA's draft curriculum for Years 11-12 in Earth and Environmental Sciences (and previously the K-10 Science curriculum). From my background of having worked professionally in both the geoscience and environmental fields (but limited by no secondary school teaching experience), it appears to me that the E&ES curriculum unit provides a comprehensive and solid base, albeit in need of some refinement as one would expect with a first draft. Based on the proposed curriculum, senior secondary school students will not only receive a well rounded education in earth and environmental sciences, but will be very well placed to determine whether they wish to continue in one of these broad fields at university level. So far I have seen little in the way of comments on the senior level draft curriculum and so I hope my early optimistic view is not misplaced.

Also impacting on career choices is the student's (and parents') perception of job availability and security in the particular field of interest. Geoscience is regrettably a notoriously fickle field of employment with periods of boom and bust, particularly in the industrial sector. Unfortunately this situation is not being helped by the major uncertainties, and consequent delays at the very least, brought about by the introduction of the proposed Resource Super Profits Tax. One can only hope that this is resolved quickly and in a way that doesn't weaken Australia's competitiveness and status as a safe and predictable country for investment. If not, current concerns about shortages in skilled workers will become unnecessary, a solution to the problem that is surely not in everyone's best interest.

Dr Michael Leggo
President, Australian Geoscience Council

Editorial

The end of semester one brings with it the end of the ACARA consultation period for the junior National Science Curriculum. The development of a national curriculum for science and other subjects has been in progress for over a year now and while many may be wary that the development time has been too short I am sure we are all keen to see the final product for the science curriculum emerge. For the Earth Sciences this is especially the case. On the basis of submissions made to ACARA last year we succeeded in ensuring the new science subject proposed for Yr11-12 would be titled Earth and Environmental Science, thus making the Earth Science component explicit and certain to be well represented in the content. For the K-10 science curriculum the changes are more subtle but my reading of the draft is that for Years 5-10 the proposed content is little changed and still a little 'last century'. The AGC and the Geological Society of Australia, amongst others, have made strong representation to update this draft to reflect our concerns. It remains to be seen whether the final draft will take our concerns onboard.

Importantly, the opportunity for comment on the senior Earth and Environmental Science curriculum remains open until July 30 and I encourage everyone with an interest in the outcome to register and make their suggestions known to ACARA via their feedback portal. It is essential that ACARA formulate the outcome based on the best advice from the widest cross-section of the stake-holder community as possible. It is acknowledged that ACARA have actively sought the involvement of those they perceive as key stake holders but the opportunity for input is open to everyone and I am certain there are many within our community of interest reading this editorial that have not been invited to participate. You can and you should.

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

The science of dealing with oil spills

Popular science journal, The Scientist, has some useful text to help explain to students and others how science is used to assess and deal with oil spills.


Why students do and don't choose science

A report from the University of New England is the largest study yet undertaken in Australia to investigate the influences on Year 10 students' decisions about whether to take science subjects. The study involved around 3800 students and 590 teachers across the country.

See the National Centre for Science, ICT and Mathematics Education in Rural and Regional Australia (SiMERR Australia) web site for more information and document downloads.


Why is volcanic ash bad for aircraft engines?

If you have been asked this question lately you might like to brush up on some facts that came to light in June 1982 when BA flight 009, flying from Kuala Lumpur bound for Australia, encountered volcanic ash 11,300 metres above Jakarta.


Natural Hazard fun for free
Download a free try-before-you-buy sample of the Catastrophe course available from upd8 and discover how Mt Etna might erupt and what will need to be done to save the local inhabitants if it really does happen. Great role play and team learning.


Geotourism in print
Two new publications; Geotourism: The Tourism of Geology and Landscape and Global Geotourism Perspectives have recently been released by Goodfellows Publications. Covering information on landscape appreciation, geoheritage, management, interpretation, education and the future of geotourism, the first book sets the scene and provides a clear definition of geotourism as well as information on its characteristics. The latter title presents a collection of outstanding case studies that provide examples of actual and developing geotourism from around the world, including the Kanawinka Geopark from Victoria. Excellent reading on this subject. Read extracts or buy on-line here.


On-line resources - links and reviews:

Image library available for free
LandLearn NSW has established a library of images which schools can download and use. Hundreds of high quality images including many relating to minerals, fossils, soils and climate are available. This link takes you to the LandLearn Flickr site.


Horizontal mapping accuracy in Victoria enhanced
The Positioning Regional Victoria (PRV) project is rapidly rolling out the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS). It is expected that, regardless of location in Victoria, any suitably equipped GNSS users will be able to determine horizontal positions in real time to better than 2 cm by June 2011. Follow this link to read more..


Google Mashup makes map making fun for everyone
Visit this site to see 10 examples of how you can use the Mashup application to do interesting things with Google Maps. It should inspire you to sit down and Mashup some local examples. If you do tell us about them!


Geology Labs On-Line
This is an impressive set of virtual exercises that can be used in conjunction with a Smartboard to great effect. Have a go and send us your feedback.


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Geoscience Education Views

EARTH SCIENCE WESTERN AUSTRALIA (ESWA): an update
by
Jim Ross, ESWA Chair


ESWA is now in its fifth year of operation and our support of Earth Science education in Western Australia has steadily broadened from solely senior school teachers and students in Earth and Environmental Science (EES), to support for the Earth & Beyond strand in lower secondary students, and more recently to upper primary levels, and sometimes even younger classes. This year will see the release of our first Western Australian based Earth and Environmental Science text book for years 10 to 12, with supporting field guides, contextual examples, and cross- curricular activities. This material will be augmented by an array of professional development and direct teacher support activities, including field trip support. We will also continue to build on the teacher texts with student assessments for lower secondary schools and support packages for primary teachers.

  • The Woodside-sponsored textbook for Earth and Environmental Science (EES) is nearing completion with release expected in June, just over one year since the project commenced in earnest. This will be an exceptional achievement, thanks to the hard work and commitment of our former Executive Officer, Dianne Tompkins, and her supporting team of writers, designers, and reviewers. Key chapters in draft form will shortly be posted on the new ESWA website and be available to EES teachers for the beginning of Term 2.
  • Dianne decided to return to her oil industry roots in February after two very effective years with ESWA, but thankfully she has undertaken to see the textbook through to completion. She will be missed. Fortunately, Associate Professor Leah Moore joined us in late February as a part time Executive Officer and with her strong background in both geoscience and education, Leah will ensure that we do not lose momentum.
  • ESWA data
  • Most teachers with formal training in earth science quickly became involved in teaching EES. However, to facilitate continuing uptake by teachers with no formal training in geoscience, a text book has become necessary. It is being augmented by a diverse array of resources, support for field trips, teacher mentoring and assistance during 2010.
  • For example, three sessions of professional development for current and aspiring EES teachers, focussed around the textbook, are planned and new contextual resources will soon be available on ESWA's website. Three field guides for year 11 and 12 students are being prepared for release this year with a focus on: Urban Perth; greater Perth Area; and the South-West. Guides for the Goldfields and Pilbara are planned for 2011. In addition, map resources have been provided and compass and rock sets will be distributed later in the year.
  • During 2009, ESWA funded the preparation of about 40 contextual examples derived from EES, but suitable for physics, chemistry and biology, with the aim of encouraging integrative science and broadening awareness of EES. These are also being posted on the website for teacher access.
  • 2010 Enrolments in EES total 671, up 14% from 2009, with the most notable increase being in the advanced Stage 3 where year 12 students have increased by 76% from 144 in 2009 to 254 in 2010. These figures compare with an average of about 46 students sitting for TEE geology from 2000-06.
  • Apart from its work to facilitate the uptake and teaching of EES in senior secondary schools, ESWA runs a complementary program for lower secondary school students and upper primary schools, funded by BHP Billiton. This program is undertaken in conjunction with SCITECH and staffed by the dynamic and enthusiastic geologist and teacher, Julia Ferguson. The aim is to stimulate awareness and interest in earth processes, and thereby increase uptake of EES in senior years, and also to broaden awareness of the importance of EES to the State. Julia generates resources and initiates formal professional learning and classroom visits, across a wide swath of the State's schools.
  • ESWA data
  • ESWA now has more than four years of operating experience and has developed a significant interface with the education system in WA. Therefore it is well qualified to comment on development of the new national EES curriculum for years 11 and 12, and the preparatory curriculum during years K-10. We will continue to comment on both as opportunities arise, and actively monitor their progress. In addition, Leah Moore is one of two WA-based members of the National Advisory Panel for EES.
  • ESWA's work is only possible through the continuing financial support of minerals and energy companies, several institutions, professional organisations, and a few individuals. If you have any interest in contributing to, or supporting, this important strategic initiative please contact either the Secretary, Charles Butt (Charles.Butt@csiro.au; 08 6436 8674) or myself (jrhross@bigpond.com; 08 92849294).

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Geoscience Education Events & Activities

Geoscience in the Service of Society - July 4-8
The Australian Earth Science Convention will be held in Canberra this July. One of the major themes, Geoscience in the Service of Society, will be running a sub-theme specifically on matters relating to education. The program is sumptuous feast of geological and educational delights!


CONASTA in Sydney soon - July 4-7
The annual conference of the Australian Science Teachers Association CONASTA59 will be hosted by the University of Sydney in July. Attend the great sessions, ask a geologist at the Geological Society of Australia booth that question that's been bugging you and take the post conference tour of the geology and ecology of the Blue Mountains.


Geoparks: The Way Forward for Australia - July 9-10
Two Day Workshop on Geoparks in Australia. Visit the Kanawinka web site for full details on this great chance to catch up on this important concept and the challenges it faces in Australia.


Teacher Earth Science Education Programme
The TESEP workshops continue to exceed expectations. PDs on Groundwater and Geothermal Energy are the latest offereings. Visit www.tesep.org.au to find out when the PDs will be offered in your area.


Earth Science Week 2010 - it's closer than you think!
Earth Science Week 2010 is on again this October. It may seem a long way off but before you know it it will almost be too late to plan that event or get that masterpiece of film finished for the Geologi competition! Expressions of interest in submitting a Geologi entry must be sent by July 16.


Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Education Conference - Nov 26-27
This, the First International Conference of STEM in Education creates an opportunity for educators and researchers from schools, universities, businesses, industries and other private and public agencies to share and discuss their innovative practices and research initiatives that may advance STEM education.


Writing Clear Science workshops
Writing science our students can understand is something we could all do better.Maybe these workshops could help you!.


Groundwater Short Courses 2010
The Centre for Groundwater Studies offers a variety of short groundwater courses. If you are interested, view course dates and further course information here.


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