Improved primary science teaching at no extra cost

Two science teachers from New South Wales and Queensland are using fresh approaches to get kids interested in science – and keep them interested.

Ken Silburn (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
Casula High School has gone from just eight students taking science to two-thirds of Year 11 and 12 students. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Fifteen years ago Casula High School was just an average state school in Sydney’s south-western suburbs with just eight students doing science at year 12. But something extraordinary has happened. Two-thirds of Year 11 and 12 students now choose science subjects and they are performing well above the state average.

The transformation is largely due to the work of Dr Ken Silburn, the head of science at Casula, through extension programs, interactive and hands-on activities for students, and a great deal of encouragement.

Ken focuses on what his students are most interested in or fascinated by, and makes it a big part of his science teaching curriculum. A highlight is the use of space science as a core element of the classes.

And 15 years ago, Rebecca Johnson from Windaroo State School initiated a new method for teaching science more effectively in primary schools without costing the government anything extra.

Rebecca teaches science to every student at Windaroo State School. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear
Rebecca teaches science to every student at Windaroo State School. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

“No-one ever questions the need to have specialist teachers for subjects such as music, physical education and languages other than English, in primary schools,” says Rebecca.

“Particular skill sets and qualities are required to teach these subjects effectively, and I believe the same applies to teaching science.”

With a fully-resourced science room Rebecca, with her teaching partner, teaches science to every student at Windaroo State School, helping them to experience a depth of science learning usually reserved for high school. And it’s all effectively done during the classroom teachers’ non-contact time, at no extra cost.

The model has now been widely adopted by other Queensland primary schools, and Rebecca now assists teachers to set up their own specialist science programmes.

For their contributions to science teaching, Dr Ken Silburn and Mrs Rebecca Johnson each received a 2015 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching.

For complete profiles, photos and videos, and more information on the Prime Minister’’s Prizes for Science, visit

PM Prize for Science_goldmedallion_text

Banner image: The teaching gardens form an important part of Rebecca’s science classes.
Credit: Windaroo State School