How real-world data is boosting science education

How real-world data is boosting science education

A new program is sharing key research findings with NSW teachers to help them inform classroom activities and improve students’ education in science.

The Data Sets Program, run by Australia's Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), gives students access some of Australia’s top scientific research data, helping them broaden their understanding of scientific concepts.

The announcement comes amid reports that show an improvement in science education in Australian schools. In February, the NAP – Science Literacy assessment found that Australian students’ understanding of scientific concepts is improving, particularly in the Primary years.

The science literacy assessments show that at the national level, 58% of Year 6 students attained the proficient standard – the highest percentage of students to achieve it since the assessments were introduced.

‘Informing discussion about real-world problems’
ANSTO’s new program lets students analyse data measuring greenhouse gas levels in Antarctic ice, radionuclides in medicine used to treat health conditions like cancer, and air pollution impacts from bushfires.

“This is about providing real-world data sets to inform discussions about real-world problems in classrooms and getting kids to think not just about science knowledge but its exciting applications,” Rod Dowler, ANSTO Discovery Centre leader, said.

Through the Data Sets program, ANSTO shares fieldwork research findings and corresponding learning worksheets with Years 9-12 Science teachers across Australia.

The program supports the Australian Curriculum for Years 9-12 Science, addressing not only knowledge components for each subject, but also crucial inquiry skills and an understanding of the impact of science on society.

Dowler said the program helps form the basis of engaging classroom activities whilst giving students a glimpse of what life as a scientist looks like.

“This is about providing NSW Schools with access to the most up-to-date information in real world science - helping teachers develop lesson plans that have a positive impact on student learning,” he said.

“ANSTO’s Data Sets program allows students to work with real data and analyse it to formulate their own conclusions - just as scientists do”.

Dowler said the last data set was centred on measuring greenhouse gas levels in Antarctic ice to monitor climate change, the next one is about radionuclides in medicine - which are used to treat a variety of health conditions including cancer.

“This program reinforces to students how life-changing medical, environmental and technological solutions are all made possible because of people with core STEM skills,” he said.

‘Relevant to every industry and workplace’
Kerry Sheehan, Science Curriculum Inspector at NSW Education Standards Authority said the program directly aligns with the NSW science curriculum.

“These data sets can be used as the basis for depth studies in Year 11 and 12 Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Investigating Science and Earth and Environmental Science,” Sheehan said.

“The new NSW Science Extension course mandates that students manipulate and investigate large data sets. ANSTO’s data sets are extremely valuable to teachers and students alike as they give insight into phenomena in a real-world context”.

Sheehan added that an understanding of data, how it can be managed and manipulated is “becoming more and more relevant in every industry and workplace”.

The Head Science Teacher at Kirrawee High School, Brett McKay, said the program is a great way for students to witness the real-life impacts of science on the world.

"Being able to interpret and draw solutions from real and complex data, just as this program teaches students to do, is an important skill that will help in many ways throughout their life,” McKay said.

"The students who took part in this program really enjoyed utilising real-world data, particularly in regard to seeing how their solutions could directly impact the pollution around Sydney”.