Engaging techniques to cultivate scientific curiosity: 2008 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools

Media releases, Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science 2008

Clay Reid

He wanted to be a funeral director, but he wasn’t old enough. So, to fill in time, Clay Reid went to teacher college, and fell into a career he has made his own.

After twenty years of secondary science teaching, he is highly respected as an inspirational teacher and leader, both in his rural community and in the wider science teaching community.

Clay has been teaching at Clare High School in rural South Australia for the past eight years, and due to his efforts the popularity of science has increased dramatically over that time, as has the school’s overall academic results in science.

What’s special about his teaching? He says, “It’s about engagement, getting kids to turn up to class and expect the unexpected. And it’s about giving every student the opportunity to enjoy science whether they are planning to leave school at year 10 or go on to university.”

For his enthusiasm and dedication to secondary science teaching, Clay Reid receives the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

Clay has ensured the science curriculum has developed in response to the students’ interests and has included topics relevant to modern society such as forensics, genetics, aviation and electronics.

His innovative approaches to science teaching have led his students out of the classroom and, being in the Clare Valley, into the vineyard.

In 2001 he helped establish a school vineyard. “We need to be part of the community,” he says. “We need to introduce students to the science that they’ll need when they leave school. And many of our students will be working in the wine industry. So if we can introduce them to the science of the industry it’s more relevant and more useful to them.”

Clay finds new ways to engage with his students, be it holding a debate over local planning laws so that they develop a deeper understanding of the environmental impacts of urban development; building life-size catapults to investigate force and trajectory; or simulating the shock waves of impact with flour and bricks.

He sources guest speakers, subject experts and enthusiasts from within the ranks of the school, the community and from further afield, not only for his own lessons but for the benefit of all students and teachers. This is an initiative that has broadened the appeal and popularity of science for all students.

Clay knows that to be a good science teacher you have to do more than just transfer your knowledge to the students. It’s about inspiring them to make their own discoveries and sharing the excitement and passion of a subject that underpins life itself.

In 2006 Clay played a major role in redeveloping Clare High School’s science curriculum. The school made the decision to make science compulsory in Years 7-10. That ensures that every student is exposed to some science.

Then, at senior school level, students can choose to study science from eleven specialist discipline areas. In 2005, just 65 per cent of year 11/12 students chose to study at least one science subject. In 2008, that figure has risen to 87 per cent.

To accommodate all students’ needs, Clay implements a vast variety of approaches to his teaching. His peers talk of his dynamic and sometimes daring approach to practical demonstrations, and his thought-provoking discussions. But all is grounded in the scientific method.

Clay insists on scientific rigour and the importance of evidence-based knowledge. But he brings it all to life in many ways, through:

  • participating in the international MOON project, where students make observations of the Moon’s phases and share their findings online
  • investigating solar energy production, testing optimal solar panel angles and optimal passive reflective material
  • running plant growth and animal studies which have then been applied in larger scales in the school’s agriculture production
  • studying the microbiology of the school’s dam water to understand ecosystems.

And, as science coordinator, Clay ensures the school’s science teachers take a common approach to scientific processes to ensure students receive consistent messages, reinforcing their skills and understanding.

Clay’s influence extends well beyond the classroom. He organises, manages, encourages and supports annual student participation in The University of NSW science competitions, the National Youth Science Forum, the National NASA Space School and recently, the International NASA Space School. He also works in the wider science teacher community, mentoring student teachers and establishing science teaching hubs with feeder primary schools, ensuring students come to Clare High School with a head start in science.


1987 Bachelor of Education, South Australian College of Advanced Education

1986 Diploma of Teaching, South Australian College of Advanced Education

Biographical details

2000-present Senior school maths/science teacher, Clare High School, SA

1990-1999 Science/maths teacher, Leigh Creek Area School, SA

1989 Maths/science teacher, Gawler High School, Evanston, SA

1988 Science teacher, Brighton High School, SA

1987 Science/history teacher, Gepps Cross Girls High School, SA

1986-1987 Practical demonstrator – geology, South Australian Institute of Technology


Member of the South Australian Science Teachers Association