Douglas Walker, Head of Science at St Patrick’s College, Wellington since 2013, has been announced as the 2022 winner of the Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize. He won this award for building a large online following of students for his explosive experiments and exam paper tutorials and establishing a network of teachers providing online classes.
Doug is fascinated by all disciplines of Science and enjoys ‘playing’ to gain a better understanding of phenomena. Although a biology teacher by degree, because of demand he is one of the growing number of non-specialist Physics teachers in New Zealand and Physics has become one of Doug’s passions. Although Doug will be the first to mention that he actually didn’t pass physics as a student!
Doug graduated with a BSc in Biology with first class honours at the University of Paisley, Scotland before going on to graduate with a Masters of Education in Science from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Before any teaching commences, Doug devotes time to get to know his students first by finding out their interests so that he can use the information to tailor topics, approaches, and questions wherever possible. He has high expectations of himself and his students and endeavors to create an environment in which all students feel comfortable and safe to ask questions or suggest solutions. He believes in his students and encourages them to be themselves.
Engagement is a key aspect of Doug’s teaching and he makes every effort to build interest in science with a wide variety of experiments and gadgets. He also inspires students to engage with science beyond the classroom, leading field trips, promoting public lectures and competitions, bringing scientists into the classroom and visiting scientists and science educators outside of the classroom also.
Doug uses a wide variety of techniques when working with his students including practical learning; constantly gathering feedback and tailoring his approach to suit; use of scientific approach to teaching (inquiry model); use of digital technology to gauge understanding, boost learning and encourage collaboration as well as following the Best Evidence Synthesis and prioritises aspects that evidence shows makes a difference for students.
Doug’s teaching has in no doubt led to improved science outcomes for students at St Patrick’s College and he has included new courses including pathways to University Entrance for students who were traditionally excluded from science beyond Year 11. There has been a 60% increase in students taking science in the last seven years. Doug’s Level 3 Science course has also doubled and the school had to increase it to a second class in 2020. His physics classes consistently get very high rates of Merit or Excellence in their external exams.
Doug and his team have broadened a range of assessment opportunities and methods in the school and he has expanded the tools available for practical learning in the science departments through DIY endeavors and grants. These tools include data loggers, digital probes, egg incubators, a thermal imaging camera, drones, bed of nails, bowling ball pendulum, flaming tubes and the list goes on.
Doug’s contribution to the local and national science community is very impressive and includes:
- President of Capital City Science Educators
- Hosting science exhibitions for teachers, industry and tertiary providers across Wellington
- Sharing techniques and innovative new resources in department meetings
- Organising science experts to visit and share with students (Malaghan Institute, Antarctic Search and Rescue Specialists, Atmosphere and Climates scientists and medical researchers)
- Education outside the classroom visits including Wellington Zoo, Te Papa Tongarewa; NIWA, Carter Observatory, university visits
- Coordinator for student teachers, as well as mentoring trainee teachers and overseas trained teachers which presented the opportunity for Doug to become a visiting lecturer for Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington College of Education.
- President of the New Zealand Association of Science Educators (NZASE) since 2021
- Presenting at a number of conferences including Physikos, BioLiveChemEd and STANZ
- Provided a series of videos in conjunction with a colleague demonstrating innovative and practical idea for members.
- Implements monthly meetings with the science subject associations.
- Science moderator for StudyIt, a national forum for NCEA students to get help with their learning.
The selection panel were very impressed with Douglas and commented that he has a very broad intersection with school-based practice which includes the classroom, the department, the school and at a regional and national level. He has been proactive in creating resources and has broadened a range of assessment opportunities and methods. He is self-reflective and student centered and he has also changed the aspirations for the better of many students.