Donors’ vision becomes reality: launch of STEM Academy for teachers

The Federal Minister for Industry and Science has officially launched a teaching academy dedicated to excellence and innovation in the teaching of mathematics, science and technology.

Professor Ian Chubb, the Chief Scientist, gave an official address at the opening of the STEM Teacher Enrichment Academy at the University of Sydney, the first of its kind in Australia.

STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A recent Australian Industry Group report forecast STEM job demand — ranging from mining engineers to chemists, software programmers to agricultural scientists — to grow at almost twice the pace of other occupations.

“To meet this need we want to give teachers nationally from both metropolitan and regional schools the best possible support, resources and skills to encourage their students to participate in STEM as the first step in pursuing related careers,” said Associate Professor Judy Anderson, acting director of the Academy, from the Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Australian Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane said STEM skills are central to building Australia’s productivity.

“The Australian Government has put science at the centre of our industry policy because science and research are vital to boosting the economy and supporting quality of life improvements for all Australians,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“We must inspire the next generation of scientists and ensure that our graduates have both the academic foundations and the best practical skills to succeed in business or industry.”

The Academy is the brainchild of anonymous donors, who gave $5 million to make it possible. They were inspired to encourage young people to consider advanced STEM skills as vital to their future prospects.

“They had seen how in-service training of teachers overseas had been successful; they recognised a need in Australia, and knew we could make it work here too. They decided that the University of Sydney – with our tradition of excellence in training teachers – is just the place to do it and we are honoured to be able to realise their vision,” said Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney.

The Academy draws on expertise from three of the University’s faculties.

The Faculty of Education and Social Work, provides outstanding expertise in teaching and learning; the Faculty of Science offers its experience and understanding of recent developments in science; the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies helps teachers incorporate real-world problem solving examples into their teaching.

“In collaboration with highly-experienced teachers and principals advising the Academy we are perfectly positioned to contribute to the future of STEM education,” said Associate Professor Anderson.

The academy’s flagship is a multi-day residential program for up to 60 teachers of year 7-10 mathematics, science and technology. The average high school teacher looks after approximately five classes, so the program has the potential to influence more than 80,000 students in its first five years.

The Academy also offers new teachers professional development and mentoring to become STEM ambassadors. In the USA, the NASA Pre-Service Teacher Institute has had outstanding success with this model.

All teachers participating in the Academy will also have ongoing access to an online centre providing events, advice and resources.