Education matters The next two generations of earth scientists II Last issue (Preview December 2018) I wrote about the next two generations of earth scientists in the context of theses completed in Australian Universities, and the secondary school Earth Science Western Australia (ESWA) educational programme. This issue we continue the theme by highlighting a very successful programme linking science mentors with high school students in the Australian Capital Territory, plus a report on ASEG prizes and awards to Australian university students. News of the Science Mentors programme comes from Geoff McNamara AM who has been a science teacher in the ACT for 18 years. He is presently the Convenor for Science Mentors ACT, a programme in which students undertake investigations under the supervision of practising researchers in a wide range of sciences and engineering. He has proved a remarkably innovative teacher, founding the mentors’programme and Canberra’s only astronomical teaching facility for high school students, and gaining multiple awards for teaching excellence, culminating in his being made a Member of the Order of Australia in the General Division, in 2018. Teaching was not his first career choice; he began as a spectacle maker and teacher of optics. We can perhaps deduce that even at that early stage of his career, his special interest lay with the far- sighted. I’ll take the opportunity to quote from Geoff’s article below: Unless we challenge and inspire young people well before they have to decide on a degree, we won’t have the supply of scientists … needed by the very generation whose future is determined almost entirely by scientific development. But rather than complain, I think it’s far more satisfying to be a part of the solution. Michael Asten Associate Editor for Education Geoff McNamara AM Convenor, Science Mentors ACT Inspiring the next generation of scientists Imagine if you had the opportunity to inspire a young person to take up a career in science or engineering? Most of us can pin our professional origins on a teacher or other influential person in our youth. But teachers manifest themselves in many ways, not always in the classroom. For the last 10 years or so, I’ve run a programme out of a Canberra high school linking students in Years 9 to 12 with practitioners in a wide range of scientific disciplines. Called Science Mentors, my goal was to provide students the opportunity to work with professionals engaged in the student’s preferred field. Each student is assigned their own Mentor who spends an average of an hour a week tutoring the student in contemporary research methods. Over eight months or so, the students conduct their own investigations, gather and analyse their own data, and write up their findings in a formal, referenced and refereed report. The average length of the reports is 5000 words; the longest produced so far was 13 000 words written by a Year 12 student. In one early investigation, one of my Year 9 students, Charlotte Andersen from Melrose High School, used data from three seismometers, one of which was installed under her classroom, and learned how to locate individual seismic events. She identified 21 tremors ranging from magnitude 1.3 to 3.7, linking most with known fault lines. Unfortunately, she lacked clear evidence of any uncharted faults. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is: the demands on the student far exceed that needed for a typical high school education. But the telling thing about Science Mentors is the fact the students keep coming back for more. They simply get so very much out of not only learning more about a branch of science in which they’re interested. There’s more to it, however. The inspiration of working closely with a professional scientist is irresistible to these curious minds. The benefit works both ways. Mentors frequently tell me they are themselves inspired and find great satisfaction in being able to help a young person learn their trade. I won’t say that they always find it easy: every now and again a new mentor will express the challenge of explaining complex ideas to a student with only Year 8 maths and science behind them. Once over the initial learning experience of their first student, however, mentors normally come back the following year for another student. For them, the attraction is more than working with a willing student prepared to make a sustained effort to understand science. The remarkable intellectual and attitudinal growth that the mentor sees in the student – and the realisation that the growth is due to their efforts – is deeply satisfying. The programme has grown steadily, and at the end of 2018, 35 students graduated from the programme. As of 2019, the programme is being rolled out 20 PREVIEW Education matters FEBRUARY 2019