EXTERNAL: Children’s connection with nature

A short article a number of years old from George Monbiot. I have seen a dolphin breaching and been startled by the rustle of a grass snake.. but I’ve never swam among phosphorescent plankton, so maybe I was on the borderline. My hometown, Burnie, wasn’t really a wild place to grow up, it was quite rural is parts and actually suburban really. I still managed to grow a connection with nature though. P’haps it was the rural-ness that did it, or the occasional adventures to not too distant semi-wild places, or perhaps the tarkine tigers that surged in population in (or perhaps that should be through) Burnie during my teenage-hood.


“Since the 1970s the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90%. In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from more than half to fewer than one in 10.”

“We don’t have to disparage the indoor world, which has its own rich ecosystem, to lament children’s disconnection from the outdoor world. But the experiences the two spheres offer are entirely different. There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted. The thought that most of our children will never swim among phosphorescent plankton at night, will never be startled by a salmon leaping, a dolphin breaching, the stoop of a peregrine, or the rustle of a grass snake is almost as sad as the thought that their children might not have the opportunity.”

Nice take on Nillumbik :)


A nice take on Nillumbik… at it’s present state! It seems to change it’s boundaries every few decades as I am slowly learning… more about that later! There is a really nice hand drawn version available at the St Andrews general store that I am intending to pick up!

From the Shire site : ‘The Shire of Nillumbik is located less than 25 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, and has the Yarra River as its southern boundary. It extends 29 kilometres to Kinglake National Park in the north. The Shire stretches approximately 20 kilometres from the Plenty River and Yan Yean Road in the west to Christmas Hills and the Yarra escarpment in the east

The Shire covers an area of 431.94 square kilometres and has an estimated population of 64,219 who live in close-knit communities which range from typical urban settings to remote and tranquil bush properties.”

Don’t forget the Eltham Butterfly Festival on Saturday!

Nillumbik Shire


Apart from growing up in Tasmania until I was about 17, about 7 years in St Kilda while I was at Monash University ( as a student… I teach there now! ) and about 4 years in Sydney during my PhD, I’ve tended to gravitate towards places in Nillumbik Shire. Hurstbridge, Briar Hill and Eltham mainly! A good 6 years has been spent around this area and I quite like it! I also like all the various bushy parts of it as well as the more city-esque Eltham area. We have been travelling around exploring bits and pieces of it over the last couple of years. I am thinking of making a little project of cataloging and photograph all the little (and larger!) walks and trips we explore on, so, given a small amount of time, (we are just moving 5 minutes away… from Eltham… to… North Eltham!), these photos should begin to emerge!


Two Recent Talks

I gave a couple of talks recently that I have placed up on the Our Solar Siblings Vimeo site. Both were in Perth in mid-2015. There was a triple-whammy of conferences over two weeks where I gave these two presentations as well as a workshop. The first talk was at the Astronomical Society of Australia meeting and involved my research into types of projects that involve high school students in undertaking authentic scientific research. The second talk was at the Australasian Science Education Research Association meeting which outlined my high school project “Our Solar Siblings”, it’s design, it’s results and it’s future directions.


Bunyips in September.

Interesting that the first time I get a complete spare moment with no internet and no contact with civilized society I just feel like having a sleep! Removing the capacity for demands of urban life to drag your attention away is a good way to see how tiring some things are! Tiring but very productive! The last year has involved chasing a variety of future-seeking strands with little time for dilly-dallying! However, now I have purposefully taken a moment off in Bunyip State Forest to dilly-dally to my hearts extent… without mobile reception or human interaction… pretty sweet :)

Occupationally, as of March 2015, my main source of motivation has been in a Postdoctoral Fellow position at Edith Cowan Institute for Education Research. The Institute seeks to undertake research that has an applied focus at improving the educational outcomes for all students but, in particular, those students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. This very much gels with my goals!

I hope my major project with this position will be to travel around Western Australian schools talking to people trying to get a good idea of why science isn’t taught so well in high schools. I have a variety of prejudices and suspicions! There have continued to be many calls and mandates for improvement in scientific literacy and educational outcomes for all from the top echelon, but these hopes and dreams don’t seem to translate down to action at the classroom level. I suspect the issue has not that much causally to do with those in and around the classroom itself. At any rate, I have applied for funding to make this project happen and I await news within the next few months.


Also a large part of my activities this year has been designing, teaching and evaluating a new approach to teaching introductory astronomy at Monash University. Recently the architecture and furniture of the School of Physics and Astronomy has been refurbished (and in some part, continues to be) to facilitate a new “Physics and Astronomy Collaborative Environment”. This redesign has taken place with guidance from the results of a variety of new approaches to teaching trialed internationally with success, largely in the United States. The first subject to be redesigned was ASP1010: Introductory Astronomy. This is a large (about 250 students) subject that was traditionally taught with three lectures and one two-hour laboratory per week.

This year, the lectures were completely removed and  replaced with two two-hour laboratories per week with work done at home. I had a large part in the designing, writing and teaching of the subject, but I also designed surveys and interview techniques so that we can answer the question .. “Is this way of teaching better than the traditional way of teaching?”. There is a large amount of data to wade through and I have yet to do the direct comparison to 2014, but it certainly looks very promising! In general, the total content knowledge gain (as a percentage of how much they could possibly learn compared to what they already knew) of 40% +/- 20%, which is dramatically higher than a typical traditional university lecture course which usually hovers not too far above zero. I’ll keep it posted! A paper is enroute to the submittery 😉

My favourite and most personal of my endeavours though is the high school project, Our Solar Siblings , a project where teachers and students can utilize research grade telescopes available from LCOGT.net. Because it is my favourite thing at the moment, I am going to shortly write a whole piece on it and describe it there… let it be known though…. That trying to run a project like this is not an easy task for the impatient! Things…. Take…… Time…….


The World Arrives at Night (Star Printer)

Pretty happy to have been involved in the creation of a starprinter with Michaela Gleave which had it’s debut at the recent Melbourne Art Fair. Perfect for all lovers of cosmology, stars, philosophical musings of the human place in the universe and dot matrix printers. (It is hard to underestimate the attraction of the last one once you have re-experienced it’s whiny impacting glory).


The World Arrives at Night (Star Printer)



Dot matrix printer, mini PC, custom computer program, fanfold paper, table

Programming: Michael Fitzgerald

Duration: infinite


The World Arrives at Night (Star Printer) prints data relating to one star per minute of stars as they appear over the horizon for the location of the viewer.  Astronomically correct, the object tracks the rotation of the Earth, the waterfall of paper documenting the movements of the sky as time continually compresses in the paper stack on the floor.  Programmed to operate indefinitely, the work is a collaboration between artist Michaela Gleave and astronomer Michael Fitzgerald and combines a shared interest in the mechanisms of the universe and the human construction of understanding.  Monitoring the movement of the stars for eternity The World Arrives at Night (Star Printer) breaks down distinctions between day and night, the flow of data serving as a reminder of our position within the universe.

Review of High School Level Astronomy Projects

0.2125 score and 0 years ago, I embarked on my PhD. Initially I thought it would be a relative breeze… little did I know that I was entering a field that really hadn’t been that well-researched or defined… using telescopes to undertake some research in the high school classroom. Try as hard as I might, I could not find anywhere that gave a good summary of the field historically and/or as it stood today. Furthermore, a lot of the publications I found tended to be “what we are going to do” focussed rather than “what we did”, let alone “this is how well we did” (which was rare indeed!). These publications themselves were scattered over many journals and conference proceedings, although Astronomy Education Review (rest in peace) did do a good job at keeping it together in one place and more coherently in the later part of the era.

Awash in a sea of literature, I endeavored to piece together the story from the non-arbitrary starting point (early 1990s) when the technology became feasibly available to run these type of projects up until the present day. This was done by summarising the literature that was available as well as interviewing people from nearly every one of the 22 projects identified as well as providing a definition for these style of projects (which I titled ARiC – Astronomy Research in the Classroom – projects).

From these sources, it was not possible to make solid comparisons between projects in terms of relative success but it was possible to present and discuss the issues that arose out of the literature and interviews. The main culprits primarily being the definite lack of evaluation of success in the field preventing such comparisons between what works and what does not as well as the necessity of stable longterm funding for these projects to really start reaping educational results.

The culmination of this research was the acceptance for publication of a 26 page review article in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia. The preprint is now up on arxiv, and the abstract is presented below. Enjoy!


A Review of High School Level Astronomy Student Research Projects over the last two decades

Michael T. Fitzgerald, Robert Hollow, Luisa M. Rebull, Lena Danaia, David H. McKinnon

Since the early 1990s with the arrival of a variety of new technologies, the capacity for authentic astronomical research at the high school level has skyrocketed. This potential, however, has not realized the bright-eyed hopes and dreams of the early pioneers who expected to revolutionise science education through the use of telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation in the classroom. In this paper, a general history and analysis of these attempts is presented. We define what we classify as an Astronomy Research in the Classroom (ARiC) project and note the major dimensions on which these projects differ before describing the 22 major student research projects active since the early 1990s. This is followed by a discussion of the major issues identified that affected the success of these projects and provide suggestions for similar attempts in the future.