Go West!

Go West!

by Dr Siobhan Dennison

Principal of Warialda Public School, Dan van Velthuizen, has set high standards for STEM education out in central western NSW. Over the past two years, the Discovery Voyager team has been part of an annual STEM conference for primary and high school students that Dan organises. Students come from schools in Warialda as well as Pallamallawa, North Star, Boggabilla, Croppa Creek and Moree to share in a one day extravaganza of curiosity and challenging science; they choose their own sessions from a diverse program and have an experience much like a science teachers’ conference!  This year, the format was different with the Voyager team visiting schools separately rather than all joining in for a STEM day in one location.

It was with pleasure that we packed up and headed toward the setting sun for another big week of science out west. This year we based ourselves in Warialda and spent 4 days in 3 schools in the region. The UNE Discovery Voyager s program services an area of over 130,000 square kilometres in northern NSW – so several times a term, the team spend a whole week in one area, visiting schools and playing with creative students in close proximity.

On the morning of Tuesday 18 June, we took off bright and early to head to Pallamallawa Public School, where we spent the day getting our hands dirty with the Science of Soils, learning about insect ecosystem services in Poop, Plants and Pollinators, making colourful and effervescent concoctions in Creative Chemistry, and coding robots to explore uncharted territories in Busybots.

On Wednesday and Thursday we ventured north east to Ashford Central School, where students from years K-10 were treated to the same four activities, as well as making weird and wonderful animals in Living Latin, experiencing a theatrical exploration of sound in The Sound Factor, and collecting data to inform sustainable farming management in Smart Farming: From the Ground Up!

On a crisp, glowing Thursday evening, the team went exploring Cranky Rock – a stunning ‘jumble of giant boulders’ surrounding a water hole, 5km east of Warialda. The site is famous for the legend of a ‘cranky’ man who, in 1875, threw himself off the high rocks to evade police capture after murdering a Warialda woman following an argument. The information plaque at the reserve, in addition to describing the legend, also says that ‘cranky’ means ‘teetering’, which certainly seems like a more adjectival use of the word . . . . . . . I shall leave the true definition up to the readers!  Check out our Cranky Rock photos below.  {photos of Cranky Rock}

Friday morning saw the Voyager team heading to Warialda Public School at the recurrent invitation of Principal, Dan van Velthuizen. Our new activities – The Power of the Brain, Eating Energetics, Busybots and Creative Chemistry – were received with glee and excitement from the students!

Dan is an active champion of community engagement and educational opportunities for students across the region too – check out Wider than Gwydir, and the bed time story book readings on the Warialda Public School Facebook page for some examples of his initiatives!

It is always a pleasure to visit and play with the students and teachers at Warialda PS and other central western NSW schools where we’ve now returned multiple times.  It’s fantastic to be asked back each year as an ongoing part of their school’s program. We remember many familiar faces as we return to the classrooms, and when students recognise us from previous years and recall what we learned together, it’s clear our hands-on activities are having an impact, and it is so rewarding to see the rising enthusiasm and curiosity for science each time we return!