Genevieve Firmer

ACSME Panel: Learning from each other: a tale of two education sectors


Genevieve is currently undertaking a PhD in Chemistry Education in the Science Communication, Education, Outreach, Participation and Education (SCOPE) group at the University of Sydney under the supervision of A/Prof Alice Motion and Prof Siggi Schmid. She joined the SCOPE group from her career as a secondary chemistry and biology teacher and is currently taking some time to indulge in the uninterrupted reading and writing time that postgraduate research provides.

Prior to commencing her PhD, Genevieve taught at a small, remote school in the Northern Territory for four years. She taught year 11-12 chemistry and biology, F-10 science and STEM, and spent time as the science and year 11-12 curriculum coordinator. In addition, she was lucky enough to work with some of her students to develop year 11 and 12 Australian Languages (First Language – Kriol) courses and to translate biology resources into Kriol.

Genevieve’s current research focuses on how curriculum influences classroom experiences in year 11 and 12 chemistry and how teachers could be supported to use peer-reviewed educational practices in their classrooms. Genevieve also has a passion for engaging students with relevant and genuine scientific inquiry. She hopes to devote some of her research time to co-designing new experiments for classrooms with chemistry researchers and piloting them in schools.

How have you engaged in crossing the boundary between secondary and tertiary education sectors previously?

I am a secondary science teacher who worked in the Northern Territory, now doing my PhD at the University of Sydney with Alice Motion and Siggi Schmid. So far, it’s been wonderful to use my classroom experience to help me develop research questions and methodologies that will directly the educational practice of teachers including myself.

My research necessitates that I constantly cross between the tertiary and secondary sectors. Through projects such as Kickstart Chemistry and Biology, E$$ENTIAL MEDICINE$, Breaking Good and Future Anything, I have had many opportunities to engage with science education in new and exciting ways. My involvement in the Australian Science Teachers Associations has also continued to assist me in maintaining partnerships with many other science teachers.

What were some of the challenges and successes of these experiences?

Some people might be surprised to hear that I miss working with teenagers every day. Adapting to a new way of working was unexpectedly challenging, but the transition to research has supported me to reflect on and learn more from my experiences in the classroom. I have been able to really dig down into some of the pedagogical and managerial successes and challenges I had in my time as a teacher. It has also facilitated many invaluable connections with like-minded, passionate educators and education researchers in Australia and overseas that I would never have been able to make while working.

How have these experiences influenced (or not influenced) any future plans to work between these sectors?

I am interested in working with scientific researchers to bring genuine scientific inquiry into classrooms. Many researchers are unaware that the science they do is now in the curriculum. The experiments they conduct daily might be the answers to many long weekends spent by teachers surfing the internet to find the perfect demonstration or depth study. I’d like to play a role in bringing some of these new resources into classrooms. If there are interested teachers, I would like to evaluate their impact on both learners and teachers.

Furthermore, one of my emerging passions as a researcher is to ensure that my findings are available and accessible for practising teachers to implement quickly and easily in their classrooms. Therefore, I plan to design and evaluate a self-sustaining open-source platform where teachers and academics can share resources and discuss ideas. I hope that my work can contribute towards bridging the current gap between educational research and practice in schools.