My research is influenced by my students’ research interests: at certain junctures, I have chosen to travel down paths with them. They have made visible doors which I would not have noticed otherwise. Perhaps most notably, in 2007 I obtained a national STEM education grant with my PhD student, Derek Muller (PhD ’08), known for his educational science YouTube channel, Veritasium, which has 1.8 billion views. We wanted to explore how we could support teachers, rather than just students. The idea was that investing in and empowering teachers to increase their knowledge and resources has a cascade effect on generations of students.
We held after-school workshops for teachers to gain insights into best practice pedagogy and learning technologies, with activities linking back to the way science and mathematics are taught in the classroom. We circulated curriculum documents for teachers to annotate, had them participate in brainstorming sessions, and asked them to pilot and complete surveys.
So, rather than just engaging the teaching ‘experts’ or leaders, we engaged a broader group of classroom teachers in this professional learning development. In short, busy and time-poor teachers diligently invested in the co-construction of meaningful and practical resources for the betterment of their peers and profession – helping them to make real and sustained change in their classrooms.
What struck me and fundamentally influenced my thinking was their nuanced world view around balancing student learning and teacher dexterity, as well as the fluidity and adaptability of the classroom environment. Immersing myself in the process was genuinely transformational and a privilege.
Those teachers took a scholarly yet pragmatic approach to knowledge creation and transfer: the core business of education. They realised the significance of ‘evidence based practice’ to their classroom teaching. I recall those conversations between this complex group of people: strategies to rise to the challenges of their profession and its practice, and moments of triumph to cherish.
The STEM Teacher Enrichment Academy deploys similar strategies of collaboration, so stepping in as Director is a natural fit. I have an affinity for deep, sustained professional learning experiences where teachers coconstruct, implement and evaluate techniques and resources, leading to enduring changes in their practice, together with increased self-efficacy and confidence. This will stand us in good stead as we embark on our next year-long teacher development programs in Sydney and Lismore.
Written by Professor Manjula Sharma for Sydney Alumni Magazine. Photography by Louise M Cooper.