Winning formula: How one school is using the Bragg science writing prize to challenge gifted students

Preethika Mathan and Ms Rachele Rugiero Santa Sabina College UNSW Bragg Student Prize
Santa Sabina College Gifted Education Coordinator, Ms Rachele Rugiero with student Preethika Mathan, who won the 2018 UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing for her essay about assistive technology for people with a disability. Preethika is holding a copy of the Best Australian Science Writing 2019, where her winning essay was published. Image: Santa Sabina College

Santa Sabina College first entered the UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing in 2018 – coming away with the winning and a runner-up essay that year. We spoke to the teacher driving the school’s participation about how they use the competition to challenge and enrich their gifted student cohort.

Rachele Rugiero is a science teacher and the Gifted Eduation Coordinator at Santa Sabina College – an all-girls Catholic college in Strathfield, Sydney. Rachele says her role involves identifying gifted and high potential students and ensuring their learning environment is conducive to reaching their full potential.

“I am always looking out for mentoring opportunities and working with industry specialists, university scholars, community leaders and families – all supporting students to make connections between areas of knowledge and subjects and to transfer their understanding into the community and the wider world,” she explains.

Giving students a voice

Santa Sabina will this year enter students into the UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing for the third year running. In 2018, Santa Sabina student Preethika Mathan won the Prize for her essay about the costs of assistive technology for people (like her own brother) with a disability.

Another Santa Sabina student, Sienna Ters, was a 2018 runner up for her essay about MRI technology.

“The Bragg Prize has become a regular offering as part of the enrichment opportunities offered to our gifted students to facilitate talent development,” says Rachele.

“Many of the gifted students are passionate about STEM and love to write. In addition to this, the Bragg Prize allows for the development of critical thinking skills and gives students a voice in many important STEM-related issues which are very real and relevant to students today.”

Open to students in Years 7 to 10, the UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing is an annual award celebrating the best non-fiction science essay written for a general audience. Students enter their 800-word essay responding to that year’s topic, with great prizes on offer, including publication alongside some of Australia’s best science writers.

Rachele first heard about the Bragg Prize through the Careers with STEM enewsletter. While she says it remains a goal to integrate the competition into the curriculum, it is currently used as an out of school enrichment event for gifted students.

She says having students recognised for their work was a wonderful introduction to the competition for the school. “The students both wrote about issues that were very important to them, and this competition allowed their stories to be not only told but shared with the community,” she says.

“This I am sure was not only empowering for them personally, but also showed them the power of words and media.”

UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing 2020

Entries for the 2020 Bragg Prize are open now, until 27 August 2020.

The essay theme for 2020 is “The Big Ideas Saving the Planet“. The competition is free to enter, and in addition to prizes available for the winning and runner-up essays, the regional and city school with the most entries will win a book pack.

Gemma Chilton

Author: Gemma Chilton

Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.

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