Science-by-Snorkelling Wins Teaching Prize
Head of Science at Melbourne's St. Leonard's College, Ranjith Dediwalage, is regarded by colleagues as a ‘builder of eternity' for his inspiring teaching. His project, Sustainable Living in the Bay, has brought hundreds of Year 8 students out of the classroom, teaching science-by-snorkelling in Port Phillip Bay. Mr Dediwalage has been awarded the Holmes á Court UTS Eureka Prize for Science Teaching.
This prize is part of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the Oscars of Australian science. Coveted among science prizes, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes were announced at a glittering event in Sydney on 19 August attended by a ‘who's who' of Australian science, government, academia and industry.
Ranjith Dediwalage encourages real-world science, with his students exploring the true meaning of sustainability. Now in its third year, Sustainable Living in the Bay has grown to an annual program involving 600 students from eight schools, two City Councils and two water and energy companies. Port Phillip Bay becomes an outdoor classroom, where children learn about marine biology, water education, waste management and energy education.
"We need inspiring teachers like Ranjith to ensure the next generation of science enthusiasts. He is having a major impact on thousands of children and the overall effect of that is enormous." says Australian Museum Director, Frank Howarth.
Sustainable Living in the Bay teaches students about the sustainable living practices of the traditional occupants of Port Phillip Bay, the Bunurong people. It also equips them to discover plants and creatures and appreciate in situ archaeology and anthropology. They also learn to snorkel, allowing them to conduct real science by identifying, sampling and monitoring their local ecosystem.
Student research has even been used by other organisations, such as the Melbourne Aquarium, contributing directly to the long term management of Port Phillip Bay.
Dediwalage's program also integrates science into other areas of the school curriculum. PE classes have been used to develop snorkelling skills. Other exciting learning activities include role-playing, marine habitat model creation and practical work involving snail and fish dissection.
Needless to say, the students enjoy their science. "Snorkelling was fantastic - at the end we learnt quite a lot about the ecosystem about the bay." said one. "Last year there was heaps of book work - didn't really like that. This is good because there is lots of freedom, lots of choice, gives us more control!" said another.
Ranjith Dediwalage has also been active on other fronts. Following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, he established the Panadura Fisheries Village Rehabilitation Fund for schools in Sri Lanka. His work has provided scholarships for 34 orphaned children, and he started the School in a Shoe Box project linking 150 Australian students with Sri Lankan pen pals.
The $10,000 Holmes á Court UTS Eureka Prize for Science Teaching is awarded for outstanding work by a secondary school science teacher inspiring and motivating pupils to become involved in curiosity-driven investigation in science.
St Leonard's College, VIC