March 2009     
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This edition of GeoEdLink is sponsored by the
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Education matters
but will the government deliver?

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Recent months have seen a flurry of activity at the federal government level in educational matters. In December last year the long awaited Bradley Review of Higher Education was released. On March 5th Julia Gillard gave the first high level response to the review with more detail to be released at the time of the May federal budget. She outlined three design elements for the future of higher education:

  • raising the proportion of the Australian population aged 25-34 with a bachelor level degree to 40 percent by the year 2025 (currently it is about 29%)
  • moving to a student-demand driven model of university funding from 2012
  • establishing a national regulatory and quality agency for higher education.

    It remains to be seen how much of the Bradley Review recommendations will be implemented. In general the Bradley Review is generally positive for geoscience. The establishment of a powerful national oversight body with accreditation responsibilities and labour market intelligence, the linking of teaching and research, the changes in funding of teaching and learning, research support, and research places are all positive for geoscience and address many of the issues raised by AGC (see agc.org.au for information on AGC submissions).

    As always the issues will lie in any implementation and in the response of institutions. It remains a concern as to how the voice of geoscience can be heard. In an open pluralistic system where government funding only provides part of university revenue it will be essential that the profession continues to develop a consistent clear message as to its educational needs. It will also be essential that it be prepared to devote the time and resources to communicate these needs to both educational institutions and any national and state regulatory bodies.

    At the end of February there was also a flurry in the geoscience community as submissions were finalized (due 28th February) for the response to the National Curriculum Board to the National Science Curriculum Framing Paper. It was possible to coordinate responses between the AGC, Geological Society of Australia and Earth Science Western Australia. Although geoscience issues were generally supported in the framing paper up to year 10 equivalent, they mysteriously disappeared at year 11-12 where Environmental Science was the natural science subject of choice. There was widespread support that at this level Earth and Environmental Science should constitute the natural science topic in recognition of the revolution in earth systems science that has occurred over the last 20 years that places biological, including human, activity as one of the major controlling forces in shaping the planet and its life support processes. A national science curriculum should recognise the interdependence and feedback mechanisms between geological and biological, particularly human, drivers in shaping the earth's environment and the availability of resources such as water and arable land as well as the minerals and energy resources that support human existence. This integration was supported by submissions form the Australia Science Teachers Association and some of its branches in recognition of the success of courses of this nature in Western Australia and New South Wales. We can be hopeful that this need will be recognized in the development of a national curriculum.

    Dr Trevor Powell
    President, Australian Geoscience Council

    Editorial

    Late last year the National Curriculum Board (NCB) produced a paper entitled The Shape of the National Curriculum and also a National Science Curriculum Framing Paper and called for responses. The Geological Society of Australia (GSA) responded to the first paper with a call for inclusion of Earth Science at all levels within a national curriculum. The GSA response was supported by the Teacher Earth Science Education Programme (TESEP) and the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG).

    The second paper, dealing exclusively with the science curriculum, outlined a way forward for science in a national curriculum. As indicated above, the position of Earth Science within this proposed structure could be interpreted as maintenance of the status quo up to the end of Year 10. Unfortunately, when proposing 4 streams of science for senior years, the NCB chose to nominate Physics, Chemistry and Biology together with Environmental Science. This is unfortunate not because it maintains the status quo of the 'big three' in school science education but because it failed to explicitly acknowledge that Earth Science is essential in the teaching of Environmental Science. Two states teach Earth and Environmental Science as a senior subject and the proponents of both courses had to fight long and hard to include the significant Earth Science components that they now have. It may seem to be a semantic argument but leaving the Earth out of Earth and Environmental Science will undoubtedly lead to a watering down of the Earth Science component in the existing courses and a national course structure without nearly enough Earth Science in it to be of use to students trying to both learn about the environment and find career pathways for their future.

    The NCB received unified responses from the AGC, the GSA, the AIG, Earth Science Western Australia and TESEP. The message from the Earth Science community was clear: Do not take the Earth out of Earth and Environmental Science. However, it remains to be seen just how much our concern registers with the NCB. The NCB was set up in 2008 by the incoming federal government to establish and implement a national school curriculum. Just how much of the new curriculum structure was also predetermined and how valued the results of the consultative process are remains to be seen. The NCB plans to have draft versions of the new curricula for science, maths, history and English ready for consultation and review by January-March 2010 with a view to publishing final versions mid-late 2010.

    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

    QRC Resources Awards for Women 2009
    Elizabeth's award
    Junior Resources Award for Women winner Elizabeth Bridgeman receives her award from Her Excellency, the Governor of Queensland Ms Penelope Wensley AO and QRC President Nicole Hollows
    Congratulations go to Elizabeth Bridgeman, a year 12 student at Moranbah State High School, who recently won the Queensland Resources Council for Women 2009 - Junior category award. Congratulations are also extended to Elizabeth's classmate, Rebecca Kerr, who received a runner-up prize.

    The awards are presented annually by the Queensland Resources Council, the peak body for the state's resources sector, at its International Women's Day breakfast.

    Elizabeth is undertaking the Introduction to Earth Science course at James Cook University and has participated in work experience at Central Queensland mines. Elizabeth says a career in the resources sector will provide her with financial security and allow her to initiate change for the better.


    Kanawinka Global Geopark is on the map
    Kanawinka Global Geopark encompasses the geology of western Victoria and south-eastern South Australia. It contains six sites of international significance and 14 of national significance and is Australia's most extensive volcanic province as well as being a wonderful source of modern and ancient cultural information. Sign up to be a friend of Kanawinka Global Geopark to find out more on how to plan an excursion to this wonderland of geology and culture.


    New fish in an old fracture
    The Tasman Fracture, southwest of Tasmania, has revealed many new species of fish and other marine life. A joint Australian - US mission to the 2-4km depths of the fracture also gathered important information on ocean acidification and other aspects of climate change.


    Old fish prove sex is nothing new
    Australian fossil fish had pelvic fins built on the same pattern as those in modern sharks. All modern sharks have internal fertilisation, with males inserting parts of the pelvic fin called 'claspers' inside the females for reproducing. The new discovery is that these ancient placoderms had developed this advanced form of mating well before the sharks.


    Cold fossil a hot turtle
    A new fossil turtle from Canada demonstrates just how warm high latitudes were during the Cretaceous. This find reinforces conclusions from dinosaur finds in Southern Australia that the late Cretaceous was so warm that little if any ice was present near the poles.


    Fires and Floods from space
    Recent Australian Floods and Fires that made the news for tragic reasons are featured in satellite images captured by NASA's Earth Observatory. This site also features images of volcanic eruptions, cyclonic storms, floods, fires, impact of drought and unusual events from around the world


    On-line resources - links and reviews:

    EarthLearningIdea covers the world
    EarthLearningIdea publishes Earth-related activities every month and they are being translated into Spanish, Norwegian and Italian so you can even have your language students discover Earth Science! Some activities have video demonstrations and, where the activity has resulted in comments from teachers, these have been published as 'extension' ideas. Since June 2007 sixty activities have been published. Activities range from The Himalayas in 30 seconds, A tsunami through the window and Why does soil get washed away? to How to weigh a dinosaur. All the activities are free to download from the EarthLearningIdea web site.


    Encyclopedia of the Earth now on-line
    This site is a new electronic reference about the Earth, its natural environments, and their interaction with society. The Encyclopedia is a free, fully searchable collection of articles written by scholars, professionals, educators, and experts who collaborate and review each other's work.


    TESEP web site
    The Teacher Earth Science Education Programme has developed its own TESEP web site to provide teachers with easy access to information on forth coming Professional Development workshops, workshop field trips and links to good on-line resources and partner web pages.


    Google as a geo-teaching aid
    Google is a great tool to use with students when trying visualise volcanoes, earthquakes and tectonic plates. This teacher shows how she makes use of this amazing resource and her blog should provide others with the incentive to do likewise.


    Now you can Google the ocean floor and Mars too!
    Mars is a great hook when teaching but so is the mystery of the deep ocean floor. Now you can use Google Earth to discover both and use them to engage your students. Read more here about oceans and here about Mars.


    Eureka! More lesson plans
    The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes has great resources for teachers and students including state specific teacher's notes and lesson plans.


    Evolution teaching gets a helping hand
    The prestigious journal, Nature, has provided 'fifteen evolutionary gems' for free download. These key modern papers serve to demonstrate the power of the original idea and provide a wonderful resource to senior school teachers.

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    Geoscience Education Views

    The Australian Geoscience Council

    Submission to the National Curriculum Board

    in response to the NCB Science Framing Paper

    Response to Question 3
    In response to the National Curriculum Board's Science Framing Paper the AGC's comment on the aims of the proposed national science curriculum is as follow:

    The AGC endorses the comments made by the Geological Society of Australia and specifically: Enthusiastically supports the notion that science education should develop student's science capabilities and provide all citizens with a minimum core understanding of science content and method that enables individuals and communities to make decisions based on evidence and reason.

    The AGC is further concerned that the current curriculum and that proposed in the Science Framing Paper do not adequately address the revolution in earth systems science that has occurred over the last 20 years that places biological, including human, activity as one of the major controlling forces in shaping the planet and its life support processes. A national science curriculum should recognise the interdependence and feedback mechanisms between geological and biological, particularly human, drivers in shaping the earth's environment and the availability of resources such as water and arable land as well as the minerals and energy resources that support human existence.

    This framework is one of those big ideas that are essential to deep understanding of a domain of knowledge (para 29 The Shape of the National Curriculum; A Proposal for Discussion) which will be essential context for future generations of citizens and decision makers in confronting the difficult decisions in the face of global change including climate change (Box 1, Ibid). This idea defines the need for Earth and Environmental Science to be taught as an integrated whole and is an exemplar of the necessity for inter-disciplinary thinking (Box 3, Ibid). In this context it is significant that many Australian universities have amalgamated their earth science and environmental science departments in recognition of this convergence.

    If this can be accomplished, the 'science for life' approach, described in paragraph 20 is a natural fit that will benefit individuals, the community and the economy of the nation.

    NSW enrolment data

    While the AGC does express strong agreement with the aims of the proposed national science curriculum, we must reiterate that the proposed replacement of Earth and Environmental Science (EES), which is already operating strongly in two Australian states, by the narrow subject of Environmental Science is a seriously retrograde step. As demonstrated in the ESWA submission to the NCB, there has been extremely strong community and industry support for the EES course in WA, with a new textbook to be delivered in 2009. There has been corresponding participation by students in WA in this course.

    In NSW, Earth and Environmental Science was introduced in 2001. As shown in the accompanying figure (Source: www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/ebos/
    static/ebos_stats.html), the very focused course of Geology attracted relatively few students and was declining in participation. The new EES course in NSW has encouraged many more students to participate and is regarded as an effective science subject.

    You can read the entire AGC submission to the NCB here(pdf, 125KB).
    The NCB website is here: http://www.ncb.org.au/home_page.html
    Both the GSA submissions can be downloaded as pdfs from here: http://www.gsa.org.au/

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    Geoscience Education Events & Activities

    Darwin on show until March 29th in Canberra
    The most in-depth exhibition ever mounted on the renowned naturalist Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution is now on display at the National Museum of Australia. Another great reason to visit the national capital.


    Nominations close March 31st for the Mining Hall of Fame
    The Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame seek to recognise the significant contribution made by individuals or groups of people to the Mining industry by inducting them into the Mining Hall of Fame.

    If you know someone who should be a part of the Mining Hall of Fame, please nominate the individual or group. Details of the nomination process can be found on the web site www.mininghall.com.


    PD weekend on offer in WA this April
    The Mining Hall of Fame and WesTrac are offering an exciting and informative Outreach Program based in Perth. The objective of the program is to provide schools and the public with information about the industry and links to personnel within the industry.

    The Education Officers based in Perth are happy to visit schools and conduct free incursions based on minerals and mining. These incursions can be for any age group from Kindergarden to Year 10.

    The Mining Hall of Fame recognizes the need for on going learning and next month WesTrac will be flying 12 metropolitan teachers to Kalgoorlie to participate in an Earth Science Professional Development weekend. Teachers will have the opportunity to visit mine sites and speak to industry personnel first hand. There will also be stimulating and informative workshops conducted by Earth Science WA.

    For more information regarding incursions or the PD weekend please contact Morgan Foster 0418191741 or educationperth@mininghall.com


    TESEP PD workshops at Wagga Wagga NSW, April 16th-17th
    Two for the price of one st Bathurst! TESEP is running two workshops over two days. PD1 is Round and Round with Rocks - a great explanation of the rock cycle and the formation of mineral deposits. PD2 is Riding the Climate Roller Coaster - a thorough look at the geology of climate change and how you and your students can access the actual data to form your own interpretations. Contact Nola Shoring for more information or booking forms.


    Time for your Eureka moment - Nominations close May 1st.
    Nominations for the 2009 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are now open This year's line-up includes prizes for science communicators, journalists, scientists, teachers and students (groups and individuals).


    TESEP PD workshops at Sale VIC, May 1st-3rd
    Sale rocks twice! TESEP is running two workshops and a complimentary field trip over two and half days commencing Friday May 1st. PD1 is Round and Round with Rocks - a great explanation of the rock cycle and the formation of mineral deposits. PD2 is Riding the Climate Roller Coaster - a thorough look at the geology of climate change and how you and your students can access the actual data to form your own interpretations. Contact Dale Simmons for more information or booking forms.


    The Prime Ministers Prizes for Excellence in Science Teaching - Nominations close May 8th.
    Teachers can also nominate for the Prime Ministers Prizes for Excellence in Science Teaching awarded annually to two teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to science education in Australia. The Science Teaching Prizes each comprise a silver medallion and lapel pin, and a grant of $50,000.


    Northern Qld Exploration & Mining Symposium - NQEM 2009, 3-8 June 2009, Townsville.
    New discoveries, mineralisation styles & advances in understanding ore deposits will be the theme for six days in June in north Queensland. During the six days, the AIG, GSA and GA are collaborating to offer a symposium, field conference and workshop that will provide opportunities for geoscientists to get together and discuss the geology and resource potential of northern Queensland.Visit the AIG for more information.


    Galapagos in July - Just for Teachers!.
    The Geological Society of America is offering an excursion to the Galapagos Islands structured especially for Earth Science teachers. Geological Society of Australia members you may be eligible for a discount!


    Let your visual geological communication shine - Entries close September 15th.
    Entries for the 2009 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge are now open. There are categories for Photography, Illustrations, Informational Graphics, Interactive Media and Non-Interactive Media.


    Get your video cameras rolling for Earth Science Week 2009
    Earth Science Week is an international celebration promoting the importance and relevance of the Earth sciences to society. 2009 celebrations will be held from the 11th -17th October, celebrating with the theme 'Understanding climate'.

    As part of Earth Science Week, Geoscience Australia along with the Australian Science Teachers Association will be hosting the annual Geologi short film competition. Geologi09 invites all Australian school aged groups, individuals and classes to submit an Earth science film relating to how we use Earth science in everyday life. The winning films will be screened at a presentation and awards ceremony at Geoscience Australia during Earth Science Week 2009.

    Any individual, school or organisation hosting an event or activity is encouraged to register on Geoscience Australia's Earth Science Week web site. All registered activities will be sent a promotional pack including posters and bookmarks to help raise awareness of the celebrations.


    Awesome Earth refurbishment
    Questacon are giving their Awesome Earth exhibit a make over. Next time you are in Canberra stop by and check out the changes. It has always been a good display and now promises to be even better!


    Groundwater Short Courses for 2009
    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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