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.

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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…….

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