Winning the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Teaching lead to Perth teacher Richard Johnson setting up the ultimate laboratory classroom, helping other schools do the same, making the Global Teachers Prize Top 10, meeting Matthew McConaughey and Tony Blair, and sharing his approach with teachers, governments and education leaders internationally.
3D printers, 3D pens, stick insects and an augmented reality sandbox are all in a day’s work for Richard ‘Ric’ Johnson, the specialist science support teacher at Rostrata Primary School in Perth’s southern suburbs.
Ric has been in demand since winning the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.
If he’s not in Australia’s first school science laboratory for young children, he might be running a professional development session for other teachers, speaking at an education conference on the other side of the country, or working with Malaysian teachers and education officials on ‘sciencesational’ teaching as a guest of the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
Ric says winning the Prime Minister’s Prize—part of the Inspiring Australia strategy to recognise and encourage excellence in Australian science and science teaching—was both a catalyst and a funding injection for setting up his hands-on science education laboratory, which has seen a marked improvement in the academic performance of the students taking part in classes there.
“People from all over the world want to come and see the lab, and people from all over the world invite me to come and speak.”
The prize money allowed Ric and the school to invest in equipment, such as 3D printers, and realise other creative education ideas, such as the augmented reality sandbox, which projects colour-coded topography onto the sand as it’s moved.
Ric shares teaching ideas and resources on his website, has helped dozens of other schools set up their own labs, and his original lab is continuing to evolve. His dream is to turn it into a research and education test lab, where people can test technologies and lessons, and work out things like what the best 3D printer for a classroom setting is.
“What the prestige of the Prime Minister’s Prizes does for teachers, and particularly for primary science, is absolutely brilliant,” Ric says.
“Primary school science is one of the most important educational building blocks for kids. If you can get them young, you’ve got them forever.”
Ric says the prize ultimately set him up to make 2016’s Top 10 Teachers in the prestigious $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, which was announced in an A-list awards ceremony in Dubai, where Richard met Matthew McConaughey and Tony Blair, as well as education ministers and fellow teachers.
Portrait:Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/ Bearcage
Classroom and sandbox: Christopher Baldwin