National Science Week 2020: Planning with a difference

National Science Week – an annual celebration of science and technology in Australia – is going to look a little different in schools this year due to COVID-19. The Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA), who are responsible for coordinating school involvement in the event, have made significant changes to what celebrations will look like.

‘There was potential for it to be cancelled completely,' CEO of ASTA Shenal Basnayake tells Teacher. ‘So we had to come up with an alternate way, basically in three days.'

Instead of encouraging schools to take students on excursions or host their own science fairs, they will be inviting schools to take part in an activity card-based system. This means schools will still be able to acknowledge and take part in National Science Week in the classroom, which takes place 15-23 August, along with any students learning from home.

This year, the event has the theme, Deep Blue: Innovation for the future and our oceans. The theme lends itself well to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which kicks off next year.

‘It's really about an opportunity for students and teachers to explore marine science and the associated technology and discover the importance of our oceans and the impact on the climate,' Basnayake says.

Taking part in the classroom

Ordinarily, school staff are given the opportunity to apply for grants of up to $500 to put on events like science festivals, or take students on excursions. Due to COVID-19, these will be unable to go ahead. Schools celebrating National Science Week are encouraged this year to engage with the official activity card-based system as an alternative. These activities cater for students in Years 1-10.

The collection of activity cards were originally developed decades ago by ASTA and the CSIRO and are known as the SPECTRA (Science Program Exciting Children Research Activities) model. They cover different aspects of science, such as astronomy, marine sciences and Indigenous perspectives in science.

‘SPECTRA was designed to match the curriculum, but provide teachers with a little resource pack with cards based on … various themes,' Basnayake explains. ‘Teachers can use it as part of their normal classroom activities or they can use it as extra-curricular activities.'

Activity cards have been created specifically for this year's National Science Week theme which are still mapped against the curriculum. It's envisaged that teachers will add these activities to their lessons during National Science Week, and they're also appropriate for parents to complete with young children learning from home. Teachers can contact ASTA directly to order activity cards.

For younger students, one activity card asks students to label the anatomy of a sea creature of their choice to help them understand how the sea creature lives and behaves. In secondary school, students can complete an activity based on how plants and animals interact use ocean currents. Once students complete an activity card, they can be issued with a certificate of completion from ASTA.

‘It places inquiry and exploration in the hands of the students. The teacher is guiding them, but it's really about the students themselves going out and exploring and coming back with the answers,' Basnayake says.

‘So students have a topic that they can select, or an activity that they can look at and say, “Alright, I'm going to do this one to start off” and then they just work through that and provide their findings back to the teacher.'

Teacher resources

A range of other resources designed for educators are available from ASTA and National Science Week which offer up a range of other lesson activity ideas related to this year's theme.

In the Teacher Resource Book, grade specific activities are available for students in Foundation to Year 10.

A student journal is available for download too, which encourages students to define the problem posed in the activity they're completing, the research they have done and ideas they have.

Think about your own school setting: how often do you involve students in national events? How would you go about linking these events back to the curriculum expectations?

How will you be participating in National Science Week? Share what your school has planned with the Teacher community on Facebook, Twitter or post a comment below.