How a STEM teacher won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching

Dr Scott Sleap was presented with a unique challenge when he began working with the Department of Education in Cessnock, NSW.

Cessnock, located in the Hunter Valley, has been steadily declining from the mining boom of 2013. Further manufacturing job losses and rising house prices have all contributed to Cessnock ranking in the lowest 30% of local government areas (LGAs) in Australia.

Scott is the leader of the STEM Industry/Schools Partnership (SISP) program, manages the Cessnock Academy of STEM Excellence (CASE), all while acting as Deputy Principal of STEM for the Cessnock High School Learning Community and lecturer at the University of Newcastle.

His approach to teaching STEM is twofold; he’s inspiring students to learn STEM to develop their personal skill sets, and he’s preparing them for the future of work where agriculture, aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries are set to boom.

“The next jobs boom in the Hunter Valley will come from a range of STEM industries,” says Scott. “Advanced manufacturing and the aerospace industry will underpin jobs in our economy for decades to come.”

It’s this approach to teaching that landed him the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. “I was very surprised to have been awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Teaching. This is the first year that a STEM teacher has received this award and I’m truly grateful to have been nominated.”

Although the CASE program has only been running for 12 months, Scott has seen some incredible results so far. Industry partners like the NSW Cyber Security Network have jumped on board to provide learning support for students, and Boeing Australia have been actively involved in mentoring students for the F1 in Schools competition.

Scott says one of his proudest moments so far in his career has been helping his Indigenous students reach their full potential with STEM engagement initiatives.

“One of these students will be provided with mentors, work experience and possibly a scholarship to complete a degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Newcastle. This is a new course at the University that I was involved in establishing. To have one of my Aboriginal students from Cessnock High School be part of the inaugural Aerospace Engineering degree is very special and one of my proudest achievements.”

So, how can your average STEM teacher learn from Scott’s experience?

“Embrace the use of a range of teaching and learning methodologies such as inquiry, problem, and project-based learning,” says Scott.

“Do not be afraid to experiment and try new things. Put the textbooks away and get the students to learn by working on real-world and authentic problems that affect their world. Be creative, get the local community and industry involved, collaborate, share and celebrate success.”

Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.


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