2005 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science 2005

mike1Mike Roach

In the early 1990s Mike Roach realised that space and astronomy ignited a passion in his students for learning about science.

Today, Mike has brought space science into much of the science curriculum at Hamilton Secondary School in Adelaide and runs an annual space science school in South Australia, now in its ninth year.

He is a passionate advocate for improving the science and technology curriculum and a mentor for teachers, both in his state and nationally.

Mike Roach’s innovation in science teaching and commitment to developing the profession has earned him the 2005 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

Mike fell into science teaching in 1971 when a critical shortage in science teachers led the South Australian Education Minister to call for help from anyone who had completed the first year of a university science course. Mike, who was part way through a chemical engineering degree, applied to his nearest school, taught a few classes, and discovered a passion for teaching that is still with him 34 years on.

In the early years of his career he had the good fortune to be involved in the introduction of Conceptual Physics, a programme that uses analogies and real-world situations to explain physical principles.

“The concepts came first and the maths later,” he says. “It was so effective that South Australia has a higher physics retention rate in Year 12 than any other state.”

For Mike, it was a lesson well learnt when he saw how his students responded to space and astronomy.

In 1992 he participated for the first time in the Australian International Space School. That led in 1993 to a CRA Fellowship that enabled him to visit the United States. He discovered that there was a vast range of science and astronomy resources that could be readily adapted to Australian education. So began Mike’s passion for space science education.

Highlights over the years include:

• Educational design for the “Science Experiments in Space 1998/1999” and “Dreaming in Space” which involved more than 800 Australian schools;

• Developing and delivering a nine-hour short course on “Teaching and Learning about Astronomy” for Years 5-9 science teachers;

• Investment in a ‘Pipehenge’ (an innovative daytime astronomy teaching device) for his school;

• A $24,000 Premier’s Science Award, which Mike used to buy portable Pipehenges for four country centres in South Australia. He has given workshops to more than 100 teachers in these regions and the Pipehenges are now used by more than 30 primary and secondary schools to teach students about our place in space; and

• Establishment of a live NASA TV link that enables his students to participate in education projects with NASA scientists and engineers.

Mike’s contribution to science teaching is not limited to space science. He is an active member of the South Australian and Australian science teachers associations and a passionate advocate for professional development for science teachers. In 2004, he wrote a unit on road safety and trained some 100 teachers in its use and as an executive member of the Australian Institute of Physics he instigated the establishment of an Education Medal for physics teaching.

Mike also designed an “Energy Efficient House” project to engage students in authentic scientific investigation. This has led to workshops across Australia and resulted in Origin Energy seeking his advice on its Home Energy Project.

Ironically, 35 years after a shortage of teachers gave Mike his opportunity, he again sees the shortage of teachers as being the greatest threat to science teaching.

“It’s important that we instil the next generation of students with a love of science, and that we give them the knowledge and problem-solving skills they will need to enable them to assess the impact of science and technology on their lives,” Mike says.

“I hope this prize will help encourage more people to consider a career in science teaching.”

Autobiographical details

1948 Born Adelaide

1965-1971 Adelaide University

1974,1975 Dip. Teaching, SA College Advanced Education

1971-1989 Henley High School

1990-1995 Marion High School

1992-1999 Australian International Space School, Sydney and Canberra

1995-1996 Teacher-facilitator / organiser, ANU Science Teacher Summer School

1995-1998 Cluster coordinator for Middle School Science Focus Project, SA Education Dept

1996-present Advanced Skill Teacher and Middle School Manager (Curriculum), Hamilton Secondary College

1997-2003 Convenor, South Australian Space School

1999-2000 Australian Institute of Physics Executive Member

2000-2003 President, South Australian Science Teachers Association

2001 Lunar/meteorite sample curator handling certificate, Johnson Space Centre 2002-present South Australian Science Education Strategy Reference Group

2004-present Treasurer, Australian Science Teachers Association

Career highlights

2003 Westfield Premier’s Science Award

2001 Inaugural National Youth Science Forum Teacher of Excellence Award

2001 Winston Churchill Fellowship

2000 SASTA Medal, South Australian Science Teachers’ Association

1998 BHP Science Award “Excellence in Science Teaching”: “Highly Commended”

1996 National Shell Award for excellence of science programs

1994 BHP Science Award “Excellence in Science Teaching”: “Highly Commended”

1993 CRA Fellowship for investigation into Space Science and Astronomy resources

1992 Teacher representative for Australia at International Year of Space celebrations in Washington, DC

Contributions to science teaching

Established the South Australian Space School (now in its ninth year)

Coordinator of the Australian International Space School. Used the money from his Premier’s Science Award to set up four portable Pipehenges for daytime astronomy teaching in country centres of South Australia, and trained teachers to use them.

Instigated the Australian Institute of Physics’ $1,000 AIP Education Medal.

Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia Year 12 Physics exam marker and member of the Physics Subject Advisory Committee.

Designed, wrote and presented a nine-hour short course on “Teaching and Learning about Astronomy” for Years 5-9 Science teachers (2000-2004).

Organised the inaugural Space Educators Conference at the University of Sydney in July 2001.

Involvements with the Technology School of the Future, including a secondment, ongoing teacher professional development sessions, and other activities.

Master class presentation in February 2003 and 2004 on NASA Educational programmes and online projects for Australian schools.

Designing workshops to introduce teachers to using a Basic E-Learning Tool Set (BELTS) to plan units of work for online delivery of the Learning Objects and other interactive sites.


Numerous articles published in ASTA and SASTA Journals on Investigating, Space Science and Astronomy, and on teaching methodologies (including “Getting Girls into Physics”), from 1993 onwards.

Co-writer of an Exemplar Stage 1 Physics Course for SA schools in 1994.

Monthly articles on various aspects of teaching and learning about science in SASTA Newsletters.

Writer of published curriculum materials for DECS including “Middle Schooling Matters in Science”, “Accessing Energy & Change”, Adopt, Adapt, Share Unit “Energy Effi cient House”

Curriculum design and development as an exemplar writer for the Australian Science & Mathematics School “Earth System Science”

Writing team for the Le@rning Federation for secondary physics (Years 9-10) online.

Writer SASTA QTP Units of Work for Middle Years: Journey into Space, Our Place in Space, Our Solar System, 100 years of Powered Flight, The Energy Efficient House

Quality Science website: www.sasta.asn.au/qualityscience