Professor Amanda Berry reflects on how her passion for science evolved into a rewarding career in science teaching.
How did you get into science teaching?
I didn't always want to become a teacher, but I was always interested in science. From an early age I could be regularly found sitting in a tree in the backyard of my home with my Gould League bird identification book, or playing with the chemistry set that I was given by a neighbour, or helping my brother build and fly his model airplanes. You could say these were real-life STEM (science, technology, engineering) experiences that have shaped a lifelong curiosity in me around the natural world and how it works.
My expectation was to become a marine biologist or a speech therapist but I diverted into teaching because it allowed me to bring together a diverse range of disciplinary and personal interests that these specialised fields didn't seem to allow.
What was unique about teaching science? What challenged you?
The unusual combination of being qualified as a science, biology and English teacher was something I loved because of the opportunity to combine different kinds of thinking and approaches to learning.
As I interacted with different kinds of students, I became more and more fascinated by the learning process – how do learners actually make sense of science ideas?; and my own role as a teacher – what can I do as a science teacher to better engage and support science learners?
Where has your career taken you, and how has this shaped the way you teach?
I began collaborating with my science teaching colleagues and some university science educators to redesign the science curriculum in my school, to work from my students’ interests, to dig deep into their thinking and give them opportunities to creatively explore the big ideas in science.
Here I could use a multidisciplinary approach, integrating physics, chemistry and biology to look at real-world issues and phenomena. I used drama and media to explore science ideas through activities such as acting out phase change in matter (students loved the random chaos of a gas!), or dramatising the trial of Galileo, where students came to see how ideas in science are shaped over time.
Find out more about becoming a STEM teacher with an RMIT Master of Teaching Practice (Secondary Education) degree, and attend the Why Become a Teacher? presentation on Monday 12 September.
What do you believe is the most rewarding part of being a STEM teacher?
It is exciting to be able to shape science teaching, inspire school students to study science and be at the forefront of promoting the value of science in society.
The excitement of seeing students “get” an idea and be able to explain it to others, watching them grapple with a difficult science concept and persist with it beyond the end of the lesson, and hearing them connect their science learning with their outside school life is extremely motivating and satisfying as a teacher.
About the expert: Amanda Berry is professor in RMIT’s School of Education. Her research focuses on science teacher education, teacher learning and teacher educators' knowledge of practice.
Story: Christoph Zeigenhardt