This year’s Na­tional Sci­ence Week was marked by the launch of Wes­ley Col­lege’s Sci­ence Cen­tre for To­mor­row in WA – a liv­ing, breath­ing sci­ence ex­per­i­ment for stu­dents.

The Australian Education Reporter - - FRONT PAGE - EMMA DAVIES

AC­CORD­ING to Wes­ley Col­lege Head­mas­ter David Gee the vi­sion for the cen­tre was to en­cap­su­late an in­no­va­tive learn­ing com­mu­nity which em­pow­ered stu­dents to pur­sue ex­cel­lence. Wes­ley aimed to de­sign learn­ing pro­grams and phys­i­cal spa­ces to en­cour­age stu­dents to be­come strong thinkers – not just aca­dem­i­cally, but across learn­ing ar­eas and eth­i­cal do­mains.

“We em­barked, al­most five years ago, upon our plans for the ex­ten­sion and re­fur­bish­ment of our sci­ence block. To trans­form it into a cut­ting edge, in­spir­ing fa­cil­ity the likes of which we haven’t seen in Perth at this time,” Mr Gee said.

“In the past, our build­ing de­signs have been done with the ar­chi­tects, the head of de­part­ment and one of two key stake­hold­ers. With this build­ing – right from the very be­gin­ning of the de­sign process – the whole fac­ulty has been in­volved.”

Dur­ing the de­sign phase, the Wes­ley Col­lege sci­ence fac­ulty re­searched Aus­tralia’s fore­most se­condary sci­ence fa­cil­i­ties, Univer­sity sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing learn­ing spa­ces and re­search cen­tres, and med­i­cal and sci­ence re­search fa­cil­i­ties.

The Sci­ence Cen­tre fea­tures a three-storey Liv­ing Wall, with op­por­tu­ni­ties for mon­i­tor­ing soil, wa­ter, air and light con­di­tions; a full aquapon­ics set up, for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with sus­tain­able ecosys­tems; and will soon have a sus­pended bee hive for the ob­ser­va­tion of bees in a colony.

Video and dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies have also been in­cor­po­rated into learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, as well as a three-storey drop zone where the stu­dents can use light gates and cre­ate wind tun­nel ef­fects that would be un­achiev­able in a nor­mal class­room set­ting.

“This build­ing re­ally is de­signed to live in that in­no­va­tive space; it’s de­signed so that not only will stu­dents be learn­ing about sci­ence, they will be do­ing sci­ence,” Mr Gee said.

“Stu­dents now have ac­cess to the types of high-end tech­nol­ogy that as a sci­ence teacher from some 20-years ago I could never have imag­ined.”

Wes­ley Col­lege head of sci­ence Ian Simp­son said that, when re­search­ing the build­ing de­sign, staff re­alised that school sci­ence labs were not prepar­ing stu­dents for a re­al­is­tic sci­ence en­vi­ron­ment.

“The en­vi­ron­ment we’re train­ing stu­dents in doesn’t look any­thing like what a sci­en­tist works in out­side school. We feel the Cen­tre re­sem­bles that much more now with its in­ter­ac­tive, col­lab­o­ra­tive en­vi­ron­ment,” Mr Simp­son said.

“There were el­e­ments we saw that we wanted to try to in­cor­po­rate. For ex­am­ple, at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in Syd­ney there are 200 kids work­ing to­gether in a su­per lab and we thought: ‘why can’t we do that with high school kids?’”

“Rather than just hav­ing an open space there’s real agility [to the Cen­tre] – you can shut a space down or make it re­ally open for two or three classes,” he said.

The build­ing’s 250 square me­tres of glaz­ing and 17 square me­tres of glass lou­vres pro­vide ‘ write­able’ sur­faces where stu­dents can work col­lab­o­ra­tively to solve prob­lems.

“Ev­ery desk, ev­ery glass screen, and all the walls make learn­ing vis­i­ble,” Mr Simp­son said.

“It’s not just the teacher in­ter­act­ing with the learn­ers; they’re all in­ter­act­ing with each other. It will take time for us to col­lect data but we can see stu­dent en­gage­ment go­ing up.”

The large cen­tre space also pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for in­dus­try ex­perts to speak to teach­ers and stu­dents, and of­fers the abil­ity for Wes­ley to grow links with the com­mu­nity and the STEM in­dus­try.

Mr Simp­son be­lieves the new space is also a fan­tas­tic pro­fes­sional learn­ing op­por­tu­nity for teach­ers to work to­gether, col­lab­o­rate, and co-teach stu­dents.

“If you’re a be­gin­ning teacher or even an ex­pe­ri­enced teacher, you’re just deal­ing with 25 to 28 stu­dents in those 4 walls. Apart from go­ing to con­fer­ences and the oc­ca­sional PD, you could have 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence but you’ve re­ally just ex­pe­ri­enced one year 30 times,” he said.

Mr Gee agrees that the new cen­tre would pro­pel teach­ers to the next level.

“This build­ing and de­sign process has been suc­cess­ful be­cause our teach­ing prac­tices have evolved though the in­tro­duc­tion of team teach­ing and the ex­plo­sion of op­por­tu­ni­ties to do real sci­ence and to deal with real sci­en­tific prob­lems,” he said.

“Stu­dents need to be in­no­va­tive, cre­ative, adap­tive and an­a­lyt­i­cal thinkers; and the study of sci­ence along­side tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, arts and math­e­mat­ics is go­ing to be vi­tal to solv­ing the world’s fu­ture prob­lems.”

Stu­dents cel­e­brate Na­tional Sci­ence Week.

cap­tion Prin­ci­pal David Gee shows WA Chief Sci­en­tist Pro­fes­sor Pe­ter Klinken the ‘writable’ walls.

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