The outdoor classroom: 2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

Mr Neil Bramsen

In the outdoor classroom at Mount Ousley Public School in Wollongong, primary students are watching and recording bird sightings. They’re down at the beach assessing the level of marine debris. They’re reading, or just thinking, in the butterfly garden.

“The outdoor classroom is probably my favourite place to be,” says Neil Bramsen, Mount Ousley’s assistant principal. And it extends far beyond the school. Students have talked with astronauts on the International Space Station and made global connections through Skype with schools in Africa and America.

Neil sees science as an enabler of learning across the curriculum. “It’s a way of hooking kids into learning. We want kids to enjoy school. It’s got to be a balance of fun and learning.”

Mr Neil Bramsen receives the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools for his innovative partnerships with scientists, the community and other schools to foster students’ enthusiasm, knowledge and skills in science.

Over the past ten years at Sussex Inlet Public School and now at Mount Ousley, Neil has renewed science teaching across both schools, working with the NSW Science and Maths syllabi to create opportunities for primary children to work scientifically and technically across content areas.

For example, when the school kinder had an empty sandbox, students were invited to solve the problem. They developed their own ways of measuring the amount of sand needed to fill it. Three weeks later, with credit card in hand, the students phoned up the supplier and placed the order.

Students also created the butterfly garden themselves. They researched, costed, ordered and constructed the garden where they could watch the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly, and just use the space for reading and quiet activities.

The school is not far from the beach, so Neil established a marine debris project where students visited the beach and conducted surveys. Using Neil’s CSIRO TeachWild Fellowship, the students Skyped researchers at sea to discuss marine science and the impact of plastic debris on wildlife.

His students have also conducted experiments in space using the Cubes in Space program. They generated a research question, ‘Do magnets work in space?’, and created an experiment within a 16-cm cube to answer the question. The cube was launched into near-space on a NASA sounding rocket and then returned to the students to see how their experiment worked.

Students also link with peers around the world. They’ve Skyped with experts in Kenya, Yellowstone Nation Park, and various US states, presenting to each other on their local climate, geography, and wildlife.

Neil’s personal journey included electrical trade studies, outdoor education (in Wales), before settling on teaching as his passion. He’s taken advantage of every opportunity to develop his skills, including:

  • the Honeywell Educators Space Academy in Alabama which led to Neil’s students talking with an astronaut on the International Space Station
  • a Churchill Scholarship studying programs that engage students in maths, engineering, and science in the USA and UK
  • the Honeywell Green Boot Camp in San Diego exploring energy, which inspired Neil to get students creating and assessing their own wind turbine blades.

Neil actively shares all that he’s learnt with the wider community of primary school teachers through mentorship within the school, articles for the NSW Science Teachers’ Journal, his extensive personal website and social media activities, and presenting at conferences and demonstration classes.

Further reading

Twitter @galaxyinvader

Career profile, Mr Neil Bramsen


2008                           Master of Arts (Communication), University of New England

1996                           Bachelor of Teaching (Primary), University of Wollongong

Career highlights

2016                           Honeywell Green Science Sustainability Academy, USA

2016                           Draft consultation workshop on revised K-10 Science Syllabus, NSW Education Standards Authority

2015                           Apple Distinguished Leaders’ Summit, Adelaide

2015                           TeachMeet and Roundtable presenter – K-6 STEM/Churchill programs, FutureSchool

2014                           Churchill Fellowship, Innovative STEM Primary and Middle School Programs, USA/UK

2014                           Organiser and presenter, TeachMeet Illawarra 2014 – Celebrating Science Success

2013                           Apple Distinguished Educator Asia-Pacific

2013                           CSIRO EarthWatch TeachWild Research Fellowship

2011–ongoing        Assistant Principal, Mount Ousley Public School

2010, 2012              Advanced Honeywell Educators @SpaceAcademy, USA

2010–2011              Stage 2 Teacher, Sussex Inlet Primary School

2010–2011              Online curriculum development – Local Environment Project, Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre (MacICT) – NSW Department of Education and Training/Macquarie University

2009                           NSW Premiers Teacher Scholarship – Innovative Environmental Education, USA

2008                           Leadership for Quality Teaching & Learning, Professional Module, University of Wollongong

2006–2009              ICT/Science RFF K-6 Teacher, Sussex Inlet Primary School

Image: Neil Bramsen (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)