Scientists in Schools

CREST support from a scientist

  • Keith Mullumby, Marist College, Canberra
  • Greg Rebetzke, CSIRO Plant Industry

Keith Mullumby’s year 10 students at Marist College, Canberra, had an extra level of support for their open investigations last year, in the form of CSIRO scientist Dr Greg Rebetzke.

Keith's students were working on open science investigations through the CREST program, a national non-competitive awards program that provides support for students to undertake open science and technology investigations. Keith co-opted Greg, who is a plant geneticist, to provide advice and a mentoring role for students who were completing a biology-related CREST project.

From his side, Greg has noticed a fall in numbers of school leavers choosing science, and in particular has found it more difficult to find graduate students to work in his lab. He saw his involvement with a local school as a way to influence and engage high school students in ‘the passion and excitement of a rewarding science career’.

Greg began his involvement with Keith’s year 10 class in term 4 of 2007, holding a presentation and discussion session about his research and the way he works as a scientist. As part of the session, the group discussed the scientific process as it applies to Greg’s work and to their CREST projects – the process of developing an idea into a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis with an experiment then interpreting the data to develop a logical conclusion that contributes to the information in the research area.

After the initial session, Greg and Keith divided the student group based on the area of science their projects focused on. Greg worked directly with five students who were conducting biology-related projects while Keith worked with the physics and chemistry-related projects. In a fairly intensive process over a few weeks, Greg provided written feedback on the students’ literature reviews, introductions and full reports as they were emailed to him. He also provided individual support and mentoring to students via email, telephone and in a couple of face-to-face sessions.

At the conclusion of the students’ projects, Greg and Keith, with two other teachers, formed a examining panel to assess both the students’ projects and a ten-minute presentation given by each student about their work.

The feedback from students was very positive, with several students acknowledging Greg’s support in their projects, and other teachers noticing significant changes in students’ attitudes as a result of their involvement in CREST.

Greg stressed the importance of the teacher and scientist working together as a team to support one another and of the scientist adding value to the teacher’s role. Greg made note of Keith’s support in providing him with continuous feedback on students’ expectations and the best ways to engage with them.

The partners are looking forward to continuing their collaboration in 2008 with another group of CREST students and possibly engaging more widely in the school.

For more information about the CREST program, visit www.csiro.au/crest.