Warm welcome in cold countries for outstanding scholarship winner

May 19, 2014 | Educator

Polar Vortex doesn’t stop innovative teacher.

Living in Armidale in northern NSW prepared Nicolette Hilton for some of the challenges she would face as the 2013 recipient of the Premier’s Copyright Agency Creativity and Innovation Scholarship, but not all of them.

Nicolette, a science teacher at Uralla Central School, travelled for her scholarship to Saskatoon, Canada, Hamilton in New Zealand, Adelaide and Sydney.

On the way, she experienced temperatures from -51C (Saskatoon) to 48C (Adelaide), with the attendant requirements for changes in clothing. “Living in Armidale, I’m used to layering,” Nicolette said, “And because I have horses, I had the right boots to wear.”

Nicolette studied the intersection of Indigenous culture and science teaching, examining how innovative educators prepare and present culturally-responsive curriculum materials for schools.

“The $15,000 scholarship that I was awarded, thanks to Copyright Agency, has meant I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the world’s leading educators working in this field.”

“It’s been an amazing experience and it’s really changed my whole perspective on the need for immersive education in this area.”

INDIGENOUS TEACHERS AS KNOWLEDGE KEEPERS

Nicolette said her peers in Saskatchewan were envious of her having access to Aboriginal teaching aides in Australian schools, while she was impressed by the concept of a group of experts supporting teachers “when they want to have culturally-responsive curriculum materials for teaching science”.Nicolette spent time with Dr Glen Aikenhead, who is an emeritus professor at University of Saskatchewan. “He is one of the leading experts in Indigenous education and bringing an Indigenous perspective into science,” she said.

Nicolette was able to examine the university courses for Indigenous students. ““They were so connected with what they were studying and with their fellow students. It was impressive.”

She also managed to get time in for sightseeing around Saskatoon and watching children ice skating outdoors in the below-freezing temperatures. “I was out walking and it was so cold my legs weren’t working properly. I ducked into an American Apparel store and, while it sounds a bit funny, I think that saved my life.”

CULTURALLY-RESPONSIVE EDUCATION

One of the New Zealand educators Nicolette met was the highly-respected Dr Mere Berryman, who is an associate professor at Te Kete Ipurangi at the Ministry of Education. Dr Berryman works with schools that have significant populations of Maori students.

“She is amazing,” Nicolette said. “Her studies have identified that Indigenous students don’t want to be told who they are but rather they want to discover who they are. “Her projects are focused on the whole school, not just one subject or one classroom.

“Dr Berryman’s research shows that the whole school needs to be culturally responsive to get the most benefit for students and the community.”

From there, Nicolette travelled to Sydney to meet Dr Neil Harrison from Macquarie University. “Dr Harrison says it is the job of educators to be involved in cultural understanding. It is not our job to reinforce cultural stereotypes.

“Neil works to recognise Indigenous members of a community for who they are and what they do and not from a stereotype that might exist. He believes in spending a lot of time building relationships with members of the local community,” Nicolette said.

In Adelaide, Nicolette spent time with researchers at Flinders University but was truly inspired by school principal Julie Bishop.

“I’d heard about her by reputation and meeting her really opened my eyes to what is possible.

Working in this area can be challenging, but for Mrs Bishop, if someone is doing something to make a difference she is in awe of them. She takes every opportunity to build links with Indigenous communities and always asks the community what they want.

“As educators, we should not ask the Indigenous community to just contribute to what is developed but to actually direct what they would like for their children out of that program.”

With her research trip completed Nicolette has consolidated and presenting her findings in a range of forums, but what she most wants to do now is to have a lasting impact on science teaching and the Indigenous community in her region.

Thanks to the Premier’s Copyright Agency Creativity and Innovation Scholarship, which is made possible through the Cultural Fund, Nicolette has immersed herself in world’s best practice in teaching science that is responsive to Indigenous culture.

DEVELOPING INNOVATIVE METHODS OF DELIVERING INDIGENOUS PERSPECTIVES THROUGH THE SCIENCE CURRICULUM TO PROMOTE CREATIVITY

KEY FINDINGS

  • Relationships with local Aboriginal communities are crucial to success of Aboriginal students
  • Aboriginal communities and parents must be asked what they want for their children, what would they like the school to be doing?
  • Aboriginal communities and parents need to have input into the development of any units or materials that implement Aboriginal perspectives
  • Do not reinforce stereotypes in the classroom, bring positive role models into the classroom
  • Teachers need to start somewhere, begin to establish their own repertoire of resources. It is okay to begin broadly

Click here to read Nicolette’s blog.

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