• A NISEP volunteer student performing a Family Fun Day chemistry demonstration. (NISEP)
How do we get Indigenous students to be more interested in science? Just give them a go.
By
Leigh Nicholson

23 Aug 2016 - 1:36 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2016 - 2:39 PM

To show that “science is something that can be done by anyone,” the National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP) has been bringing together secondary school students to host family fun days – events dedicated to celebrating both Indigenous and Western science.

The latest event in this series took place just last weekend, on the final day of the Sydney Science Festival and National Science Week. A range of science outreach providers gathered at the Redfern Community Centre, with activities designed to showcase a culturally diverse range of different science areas, such as bush medicine, Aboriginal astronomy, science of ochre, spear throwing and even 3D-printing.

“This day is really a celebration of Indigenous and Western science, of achievements and Aboriginal Elders and Indigenous youth,” says Macquarie University's Associate Professor Joanne Jamie, one of NISEP’s co-directors.

Jamie explains that the program aims not only to encourage Indigenous youth to gain an interest in science, but also to give the participating students confidence and new skills.

“This program is using science engagement to enhance educational outcomes in the community [..] to give them leadership skills and confidence to realise their potential,” she adds.

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Besides running their own showcases and activities, the program also gives teenagers a chance to come to other events, like university open days – setting them on a pathway to tertiary education.

Luke and Kyle, both 17, were helping out at the event and have been participating in NISEP for a few years now. The two are from Maclean and Casino respectively, and the program brings them and other demonstrators down to be a part of these events. Kyle joined the program because it’s become a sort of family tradition: “My brother and sister were the first students to do it. It’s lots of fun.”

Luke explains that one of the motivations for joining were the skills the program could give him. “For me it was all about getting confidence to talk to people and be in a leadership role,” he says.

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Vic Simms, a singer and Bidjigal man, regularly holds talks and bushwalks, representing his community; at this event he displayed some traditional technologies.

“What I’m holding in my hand right now is the super glue of the bush,” Simms explained, showing off some hardened bits of natural resin. “It’s found at the base of native grass trees [..] it will bind stuff together and has been used in the Aboriginal makings of weaponry and utensils.”

Besides the work these kinds of ‘Indigenous science’ events do in promoting interest and education in areas of science that would otherwise not always get the chance to be showcased, programs such as NISEP also have a valuable role in giving teaching and leadership opportunities to secondary school students.

NISEP evaluates their demonstrators, usually students from Year 8 upwards, before and after participation. They look at their “understanding of science, their confidence, their desire to go into further education,” Jamie explains.

“We always see a positive change, and [to date] we’ve evaluated around 600 demonstrators from our partner schools.” 

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