Monday, 13 October 2014

ASTA Science Teachers Exchange—JAPAN 2014 recap

The 2014 delegates (from left) Danielle Spencer, Gary Tilley, Leah Taylor, Sarah Chapman, Vic Dobos and Robyn Aitken

The 2014 Exchange is officially over, with all four teachers and ASTA's treasured President and CEO back on Aussie soil.

ASTA would like to recognise and thank the Australia—Japan Foundation and the Sony Science
Teachers Association for their generous support of the Exchange. We would also like to sincerely thank the staff at all the schools and institutes visited during the Exchange; the delegates were touched by your hospitality and grateful for all that you shared with them.

For a recap of the 2014 Exchange you can download the ASTA Science Teachers Exchange—JAPAN publication here.

Read about the 2014 Exchange at

Monday, 6 October 2014

Day 6: Getting the most out of our final day at JAXA, Sensojiji and Akihabara - post by Robyn Aitken

We had a beautiful blue sky for our final day in Tokyo. In the morning we travelled to Tsukuba, the science super-city about an hour and a half out of Tokyo to visit the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Most of the residents of Tsukuba are employed in science industries, and two thousand of those people work at JAXA.

ASTA delegation outside JAXA
Try as we might, we couldn't think of a way to fit this in our luggage. Maybe next time.

So many activities are carried out at JAXA: research into docking facilities in space; improving rocket launchers; developing and testing materials that can survive the harsh conditions in space; and investigating the effect of space on the physiology of the human body and developing ways of countering the negative effects. (The findings of the latter are not only useful for astronauts but also for the elderly.) JAXA has also been observing volcanic activity and the impact of the recent Mt Ontake eruption in Japan by using earth observation satellites.

ASTA team at Jaxa
We were on our best behaviour, though Vic just couldn't help trying to touch things. (I am in the middle at the front.)

From JAXA we travelled to the Sensojuji Temple in Asakusa and learnt about the correct way to cleanse for good health from our guide, Michigo. There were many markets in front of the temple and the whole group used their time well to buy souvenirs and presents for family. The last part of the day was a quick trip to the Akihabara area, famous for it's electronics shops.

Gary Tilley at Sensojuji Temple
Gary warded off any post-trip bugs by performing a ritual cleansing at Sensojuji Temple.
Akihabara offers all the latest in technology.

We arrived back at our hotel with many bags, and spent the evening packing, and repacking, as we tried to fit our shopping into our cases, including a heap of great car kits to demonstrate energy in the classroom.

The ASTA team wrapped up our trip with serious shopping.
Can you pick who did the most shopping?
Car kit
These fantastic kits will be great to use in our Science classrooms.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Day 5: Jelly beans and bullet trains - post by Leah Taylor

Hello, I am Leah Taylor, Curriculum Coordinator at St Anthony’s Parish Primary in Wanniassa ACT. When I found out I would be coming over to Japan on the ASTA Science teacher exchange I was beyond excited. I feel privileged to be able to share my passion for Science while over here as well as to learn from my Japanese and Australian peers.

Takasago Elementary School 

The day began with what has become a daily ritual - walk to the Mango Tree Café to collect our morning coffee before meeting up for breakfast. We have been fortunate to be seated at a corner table each morning looking over the koi pond and waterfalls. The garden setting provides a wonderful and serene start to what eventually become jam-packed and always mind-blowing days.

Coi pond
Gorgeous koi fish were our breakfast companions each day.

At 8.25am we met in the hotel foyer ready to board our bus bound for Takasago Elementary School. The school is situated in Saitama City. Founded in 1871, Takasago Elementary School is the oldest school in Saitama City. The school is also one of the largest Elementary schools, with 870 students.

Takasago Elementary School is a leader in educational research and regularly publishes research on pedagogy within a variety of disciplines. They hold an annual public forum on their research each February and have been doing so for the past 43 years. Teachers from all over Japan attend these research presentations. When we asked the Principal about his secret to such ‘inquiry into practice’ by the staff, he identified that the embedded culture of pedagogical inquiry was a significant contributor to new staff continuing this tradition.

As soon as we arrived, we dropped our bags and were whisked away to the Science teaching laboratory. One thing that has surprised us during this trip is that every elementary school has a fully resourced Science teaching Laboratory. The lesson by Ms Ai Izawa had already commenced, so we crept in and moved to the back of the room. The lesson was about land subsidence and erosion. Students were asked to make predictions about where they thought the best place was to build a house on a mountainside. Students were given ¥1,000,000 to buy land, build their home and erect additional structural supports to keep the house safe. A student from each group made predictions about where the best place for their home would be and about what they needed to protect their home from the flowing river.  After students tested their hypothesis, they presented their findings to the rest of the class.
As well as seeing the Takasago Science class, we also had the pleasure of sitting in on part of a music lesson. The children sang so beautifully and when I looked around the room I noticed I was not the only one with a tear in my eye. At every school we have seen during this trip, we have been struck by how beautifully they all sing. Their music teachers create some of the most amazing arrangements and their students all sing those arrangements with both passion and perfection. Before I came to Japan I tended to only associate Japan with karaoke singing, but the amazing choral arrangements by the Japanese music teachers and their students has given me a much richer impression. However, the business of the visit was Science not music and it was time for me to prepare for my lesson.

Leah Taylor with her Takasago Elementary School students
Japanese students can be reserved at first, but they quickly come out of their shells.

My lesson was about adaptations in Australian animals. Following the standard slides on cute and cuddly Australian animals, we got into the fun part of the lesson, the jellybean game. Students had to take turns at eating jellybeans. The rules to the game were as follows:
  • No one is allowed to talk
  • Students may only take one jellybean at a time and they must eat it
  • The game ended when everyone in the group refuses to eat any more jellybeans
What the students didn’t know was that one colour jellybean was coated in ‘Stop-Bite’, making the jellybean bitter. This lesson mimicked what happens in the wild with animals that have mutated to either have a bitter taste or a poison. Like the jellybeans, those animals that are not eaten will be able to survive.

Leah Taylor teaching a class at Takasago Elementary School
Leah Taylor teaching a class at Takasago Elementary School
Stop-Bite works just as well on jelly beans as it does on fingernails - as the kids in my class found out!

The children eagerly dug their hands into the bag of jellybeans and ate them one by one. Gradually, we started to see the screwed up faces of those who had selected a red jellybean. Even Mr Asami Shigeo, the principal joined in with a group and remained very composed as he bit into one of the painted jellybeans.

Following a delicious lunch it was Garry Tilley’s turn to teach a class. He treated students to a visual montage of surf and sand and answered students’ questions about Australia. His lesson then moved to looking at the Red Centre and iron ore deposits. Students were able to look at iron ore samples alongside other rock samples as a comparison. The students were excited and curious about Australia and asked Gary many questions about dangerous animals, types of surfing, and plants in Australian deserts. Gary happily answered students’ questions and by the end of the lesson, the usually reserved Japanese students were excitedly putting their hands up.

An interesting thing we noticed was that when students were selected to speak to the class, they stood behind their chair. This occurred whether the student was asking a question or responding to a question.

Gary Tilley teaching a class at Takasago Elementary School
Gary Tilley with his class at Takasago Elementary School
Gary's class was a huge success. It's great to be able to teach Japanese students about some of the wonders of Australia.
The lessons were followed by teacher discussions from everything ranging from the submission of lesson plans to the City’s Board of Studies, to the use of textbooks, to the resourcing of Science education across Japan. Mr Asami Shigeo noted that Japan did not have any natural resources and in order to maintain its economic prosperity the nation has to invest in its human capital. The Japanese government recognizes the importance of innovation, especially innovation in technology. Science is viewed as essential for supporting that innovation. Every Japanese elementary school devotes three hours a week to the teaching of science and the teachers regularly conference to develop rigorous lessons. We were grateful to the principal and staff for giving us such insight into education in Japan.

Tokyo Railway Museum 

After we were farewelled by our hosts at Takasago Elementary School, we ventured on to the Tokyo Railway Museum. The Railway Museum is situated in Onari, Saitama City and was built as the centerpiece of the JR East 20th Anniversary Memorial Project. Spread over 4 levels, including a rooftop, the museum is home to a range of exhibits, from early steam engines, including the imperial train, to the super-modern bullet train. The museum also houses a number of simulators. I had a chance to drive one of the famous bullet trains. My task was to take the train from one station to another. I did manage to get the train to the required station, although it was a little slower than we normally expect the bullet train to travel, and I didn’t quite get the train all the way to the station. It was an interesting experience to drive a train through an interpreter.

Leah Taylor driving a train at the Takyo Railway Museum.
Maybe I shouldn't apply for a job as a train conductor just yet...

In the evening, we attended a farewell dinner with the Sony Science Teachers Association, our hosts for this year’s visit. It was wonderful to see so many teachers and people associated with Sony Education at the dinner. Our many ‘interpreters’ were busily supporting conversations between Australian and Japanese teachers. The evening was a great finale to what has been an amazing opportunity to gain a little insight into Science teaching in Japan.

With much sadness we farewelled our ‘Japan Mum’ and interpreter, Keiko who was invaluable during our tours of schools and greater Tokyo. Her insight into the Japanese school system and background in education was invaluable as we delivered our lessons. We were all grateful for her support and occasional suggestions to help our lessons flow and be received well by the Japanese students. We also said farewell to Setsuko from Sony Education. Setsuko had joined us at each of the schools and often acted as an interpreter during the dinners and meetings when one interpreter was not enough.

This experience in Japan has been amazing. I have gained greater insight into teaching science in Japan and the Japanese school system more broadly. I am so very grateful to the Australian Japan Foundation and ASTA for this fantastic opportunity and I look forward to sharing this experience with my peers in Australia.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Day 4: From SONY to Science Super Schools, Japan leads the way into the future of science - post by Gary Tilley

A pond in Tokyo
A wetter, cooler morning, though still beautiful.

On Wednesday we all awoke to the sound of rain, which was a welcome relief to the sticky atmosphere of Tokyo's early autumn. I enjoyed an early coffee at our little corner shop and watched the cosmopolitan black-suited business brigade make their way to their offices in massive droves. There are so many people here and they all move in such an orderly and polite way, and keep their enormous city clean and tidy. Everything works, and it works all the time! It is an amazing city full of productive life.

Our group made its way down to the international headquarters of SONY as VIP guests to go behind the scenes for a special showcasing of the emerging technology SONY are producing at "The Square". Here, we were treated to a display that left us truly awestruck by the technology that is out there. SONY has supported teacher education for quite some time and it was a privilege to see their cutting edge work.

Robyn Aitken outside SONY HQ
Robyn made sure we were in the right place.
We witnessed a promo of SONY's video work in 4K across four 200inch integrated screens that blew away preconceptions of quality of image and definition. Vic loved the fast cars that seemed to be entering the same space we were currently occupying! The mountain scenes made you a part of the spectacle and other sports appeared to be happening whilst you were on court with world famous players. How they did it is beyond me, but it impressed everyone.

We were then given shown some famous musicians playing...including Carlos Santana alongside his signed guitar! That impressed many, but I liked the ukulele of Jake Shimaloukuro, whilst others preferred Michael Jackson or Beyoncé. The real standout was a singer called Curiosity. The reason she stood out was because she sang in a 3D theatre, where she felt so close and so loud that the wind blowing through her hair hit us along with the smell of her breath. We think that was among the first 4D concerts. Remarkable!

As if these displays hadn't left us speechless, Danielle was given the controls of the Play Station 4 and managed to release 15 or so little virtual reality robots who become so interfering we were forced to pat them on the head, kick them out of the way, and eventually Vic had to vacuum them up. They were ever so cute, but Vic did have a job to do!

We walked through several stunning displays of recent SONY films where original props could be handled. We took a liking to Peter Parker's Spider-Man outfit, and Gary was about to try it on when Vic discovered some Breaking Bad action and wanted to start putting some of the very real props to some "questionable" use!

We moved into the football stadium, which had 3D cut outs of football players shooting for goal on the synthetic grass pitch and goals ready to receive the ball. 4k film was being used in the stadium and it put the spectator in amongst the players where they could see, with clarity, the expressions on the faces of players, and see and hear the audience. This sporting experience is bound to be state of the art very soon.

The SONY Electronics Cafe took everyone's fancy, with cameras of all sizes and tablets that could survive underwater and connect to any other device imaginable. A small ball-like speaker shook the building when connected to a smart phone. A smartband and its app made a pedometer look ordinary and when you connected that to your smart watch, you had the world as your oyster! All seven of us put our resumes in to SONY just to be with the new technology.

Following a lovely lunch in SONY's staff cafeteria, we moved on to the Ulrawa Dairidi Super Science Girls High School. Some students presented their winning ISEF entries and we had a valuable discussion with the students and teachers about their science work. We watched a lesson conducted by our very own Sarah Chapman, who wowed the audience with her expertise and style.

Sarah Chapman teaching a class at Ulwara Super Science Girls High School
One of Australia's own Super Science Girls, Sarah conducted a fantastic, hands-on lesson at Ulwara.

Ulwara students conducting the Skittles experiment
The Skittles experiment
The universal language of science meets the universal language of Skittles!

The school, whilst very different to ours in Australia, worked to its national standards while also being a special Super Science School for girls, set up to encourage girls into science and engineering. Base on the figures we were shown it was working very well, with high levels of science university options being taken up by its students.

The ASTA team with staff from Ulwara
A class at Ulwara
The dedicated staff at Ulwara give their students the tools and support they need to pursue careers in science.

By evening the rain had totally cleared and we were able to see some of the famous department stores of Downtown Tokyo. We managed to resist the $7,100 scarves and ties and shirts well into the hundreds of dollars. Beautiful to look at, lovely to hold but...well you know the rest! Stunning but not for me.

For dinner, we found a great little eatery where they served beer in a glass boot! No matter how hard the girls tried those glass slippers just did not fit. Danielle tried to 'boot up' her computer and Leah was offered 'a boot in the…' but refused. Finally, we had to give Robin 'the boot' when her jokes got too corny. Talk turned to the politics of science education, and the needs of our science community. Plans and strategies were made and forgotten by those with too many boots to deal with.

It was one of those days you can only dream of. The encounter with technology of the most extraordinary kind, students and staff politely and productively working to their best and setting a shining example to all teachers, our Sarah showing the way with another one of her great demonstration lessons, and pumpkin ice cream to finish. Twenty out of ten, we all agreed. ASTA has done a great job making this happen and we are doing our best to experience another cultures systems and see ways that we can improve our practice, engage our students and the broader community with science and science communication. Way to go team!

Tokyo at night
Tokyo at night.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Day 3: Adaptations, enzymes and indoor shoes at Utase - post by Sarah Chapman

Hello, my name is Sarah Chapman. I am a teacher and Head of Department of Science at Townsville State High School.  I feel very honoured to have been selected for this very special trip to Japan. I have never visited Japan before, and the experience has already been very educational and certainly a trip to remember.

ASTA delegation with the Utase Junior School personnel
Me (front row, forth from the left) and the rest of the ASTA-Japan delegation with Mr Chiba and other key personnel from Utase Junior School. Check out our funky indoor shoes!


Tuesday morning - Utase Junior High School

Tuesday started with a one-hour bus trip to Utase Junior School, located in Chiba City. It is a new school, only 20 years old, and very impressive. It contains beautiful buildings, specially designed and purpose built for the school, that emanate Japanese culture.

To enter the building you must first remove your shoes and put on indoor shoes. Students at this school are not required to wear a uniform and there are no bells or set rules for the students to follow. The school has set objectives that underpin the students' beliefs. These include 3S's (Study, Sense and Sports) plus ABC (Achievement Best Selection and Challenge). Parent involvement is exceptionally strong and visible within the school, with parents assisting with the care of the grounds, catering and support of programs throughout the school. Utase also has strong with ties with other Chiba SONY Junior Schools, with many Principals, teachers and key personnel present to collaborate with teachers and staff.

Utase Junior School has 954 students from grades seven to nine. We were greeted by the Principal Mr Chiba, Vice Principal and key personnel. It was certainly a very warm welcome with us meeting with the principal in his office to discuss the vision, priorities, curriculum and buildings in the school.

We then observed a class of 35 students in Year Two (equivalent to Year Nine in Australia) during a Science lesson, run by a Science teacher called Mr Saso. He delivered a highly engaging, hands-on lesson about digestive enzymes. Students conducted tests using starch and gelatine and examined the impacts of foods on the composition of these mate-rials. This lesson was very interesting and provided students with an interactive and visual way to examine the impact foods have on digestion.
Experiment of impacts of food on digestion
Seeing the impacts of food on digestion.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to teach a class of my own, with the help of an interpreter, Keiko Tonegawa.  My lesson focus was on the adaptations of Australian animals. It involved teaching the three types of adaptations and then relating these to nine Australian Animals. I had cards with background information that students were able to read, along with a figurine of each Australian animal, so that students could see a three-dimensional version of the animal. It was a really wonderful experience to engage students in learning about Australian animals.

Their eyes lit up as they examined the models of each animal and guessed what they were: for some it was the first time they had ever heard of some of the animals. It was very rewarding to see students applying what they had learnt to identify the various adaptations. Students even volunteered to share their favourite animal’s adaptations with the class, which was a thrill as I was told the students are reluctant to speak in front of their class.

Sarah Chapman teaching a class at Utase
The students enjoyed learning about the adaptations of Australian animals.

Utase Junior High School was different in many ways to the high school I teach at. However, it was similar in many ways, too. This was certainly an incredible experience and one I will never forget. Such a personally rewarding thing to bridge the divide of language by using the skills and common understandings of science.

Tuesday afternoon - National Museum of Science and Nature

The afternoon highlight was certainly visiting the National Museum of Science and Nature. The place was amazing! The sections we saw highlighted the animal species of and the geological story of Japan.

National Museum of Nature and Science
National Museum of Nature and Science
The National Museum of Nature and Science was wonderful to experience.

For me, the best part of the Museum was the Theatre 360, a movie theatre showing science in 3D. Inside, you are surrounded on all sides by a seamless sphere of video and sound. It was unreal!! So very hard to explain, being suspended on a bridge and being able to view images of dinosaurs and early humans all around you. At one stage I swore I was even flying down the skeleton of a Triceratops. I am sure that the smile on my face at that stage could not have got any wider. This was something that certainly went beyond words, a true celebration of the wonder of science and the brilliance of technology to put on such a wonderful display. WOW! 

To conclude our day we visited the Tokyo Sky Tree, a tower that spans 634m high. We enjoyed the sights of Tokyo, seeing the amazing expanse of the city, interacting with the displays and watching the twinkling lights. It was certainly an unreal experience.

The Sky Tree in Tokyo
The Sky Tree lives up to its name!

My experience after just two days in Japan has already been mind blowing. I have really enjoyed embracing the culture and being a part of education in the Japanese schooling system. It has been wonderful to speak to the teachers and learn about the education system in Japan and how we value the same priorities when it comes to Science education. It has been really rewarding to engage with the students and go beyond the language barriers to find a common interest, a passion for Science. Also to travel with such a brilliant group of Australian teachers and Japanese SONY Foundation staff, in itself has been such a re-warding experience. My love of learning has certainly been satisfied, strong collegial bonds have been made and laughs and smile have been aplenty. I keep having to pinch myself to realise that I am here. I feel so lucky to have this experience, and cannot wait for tomorrow!

Sarah Chapman

Monday, 29 September 2014

Day 2: A ten out of ten experience - post by Danielle Spencer

Considering we missed a day for the volcano, we certainly made up for it today. To quote Sarah, it was a "10 out of 10 kind of day".  We were immersed in culture straight away at breakfast, walking past a carp enclosure and beautiful views of waterfalls. The bus ride to Sanda Elementary school revealed a maze of lined streets and endless sights – I didn't want to miss one of them!

When we first pulled into Sanda Elementary it didn't quite look like a school building. But then we heard the children singing, and it definitely sounded like a school then.

We first went to the assembly hall to have the school assembly - and were the Australian teachers on show. The hall was packed with eager and curious faces, though some children were distracted just like at home. After introductions we were asked questions by a select group of students. Seems that the burning questions were:
  1. What type of games do children like to play?
  2. What type of gourmet food do we have in Australia?
  3. What are the subjects that children learn? and
  4. What dreams do children have?

After the questions, the school stood for the school anthem. I was touched by the pride all of these children displayed by singing their song, almost to the point of tears. Even the kids who were earlier distracted were singing with such joy. It was exceptional to witness. After the assembly, we watched a science lesson with one of the Grade Three classes where they used rubber-band-propelled cars to navigate through a series of problems. I was amazed at the size of the class (37 students) and was impressed that the teacher managed such a big class so effectively. The children were thoroughly engaged in the task and I was itching to have a turn. It was a treat to interact with the kids although I didn't get my car to even get past the first task!

After morning tea it was my turn to teach. 77 Grade Three children! Never again will I complain about my 'over-sized' class of 31. I had planned a lesson on the life cycle of marsupials - a PowerPoint presentation, a sorting activity and a drawing activity to finish.

With the aid of my translator, the magical Keiko, I slowly delivered my lesson to a room full of interested faces. During the stage where the children were sorting, I got to spend some time going around to individual groups and talk about our animals and their life cycles. It was great to realise just how much you can convey without sharing the same language.

After the sort, I wanted to get the children's attention and in all honesty had no idea how I could do it! So I tried the clapping game. The universal clapping game is a behaviour management dream internationally so it seems - the children followed so we even played for a bit longer! Children are children and they love playing games. Being given this opportunity has been a highlight of my life and I cannot wait to see the rest of the week.

Danielle Spencer teaching a class at Sanda Elementary School
The clapping game knows no language barrier!

After lunch we spent some more time speaking with the principal. What impressed me about the Japanese elementary education system is the priority that science is given. Students learn three hours of Science a week and teachers must have in-service training in science curriculum regularly. Unfortunately this is not the case in Australia. What also impressed me is how dedicated the education system is in maintaining and teaching cultural heritage - children learn at school traditional drums, traditional dance and puppetry.

After we left Sanda, we headed to the Australian embassy to meet with staff from the Australia-Japan Foundation to discuss how to develop and strengthen initiatives like the ASTA-Japan Science Teachers Exchange, which bring cultures together and encourage sharing of teaching practices. We were even fortunate to have the Ambassador drop by for a quick hello. Never let a photo opportunity pass!

The ASTA deleagation with Ambassador Bruce Miller
Australian Ambassador Bruce Miller was nice enough to pose with us and our cute little banner. I am second from the left.

To top off an extraordinary day we had dinner with the Sony Education Foundation. A quick stroll through busy Downtown Shinagawa took us to a traditional Japanese restaurant, where I got to live up to my promise to myself to I had promised myself try anything. The meal included raw fish, wasabi paste, eel, and the delightful experience of shabushabu - a boiled soup that you cook together at the table. I was enchanted by the sake tradition (and of course I tried it) Dinner was completed with a soy milk cheesecake – a treat to sum up an exceptional day.

Dinner with the SONY Foundation.
At dinner, we presented gifts to our lovely new friends at the SONY Education Foundation.

Day 2: Sanda Elementary School - post by Vic Dobos

Our day began early, but luckily Gary and I had already sniffed out the best coffee shop in Sinagawa. After breakfast we headed to Sanda Elementary School, where we would observe classes and meet with teachers and Danielle would present as a special guest teacher.

Traffic in Tokyo is something to behold, but everything moved well. The weather was beautiful as we drove through the urban sprawl, encountering many pockets of high-rises along the way. Sixty percent of Tokyo residents live in apartments and most commute to work via the Tokyo rail system.

Once at Sanda, the teacher delegates were taken up on stage and introduced to the 570 students at an assembly. The principal, Mr Takahashi, shared some interesting and unique facts about Australian flora and fauna with the children, and in return they sang us their school song with gusto. The students seemed just as excited to see us as we were to see them, and when they were given the chance to ask the teachers questions they did so with enthusiasm and thoughtfulness, asking about Australian foods, sports and school subjects.

The subject of Science is introduced to Japanese students in Grade Three. As in Australia, the curriculum includes a wide range of science. Today's lesson was on energy – physics. Previous lessons looked at wind power, and later in the year they will look at electricity and how it drives the car.

Watching a Sanda Elementary school class in action.
Watching a Grade Three class solving problems.

We enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the way Science education is approached at Sanda with teachers, including Mr Takahashi, Chapter President of the Sony Science Teachers Association.

An important feature of Science education in Japan is the focus on problem solving. This is taught by 1) presenting a problem to the students; 2) teaching ways of thinking, and how to look at problems and seek solutions; and 3) presenting solutions. Encouraging problem solving is much more emphasized than pushing knowledge.

Sanda is strongly supported by parents and the community, with parents involved in reading, cleaning and classroom help. Students learn traditional activities alongside the academic curriculum, including folk art, traditional doll play, tako drums and martial arts. There are several different exchange programs, which expose students to diversity and new opportunities.

Japanese elementary school teachers face similar issues to those in Australia: namely, that being required to teach everything, including music, art, literacy, numeracy and social studies, means their science expertise is limited. However, there are lots of workshops available to improve teacher competence.

Additionally, the average age of teachers in Japan is lowering. Of the twenty-four teachers at Sanda, only ten have more than five years' experience. However, senior teachers are required to train or mentor junior teachers, which provides a good foundation of support. Teachers grow in experience and confidence by watching other teachers teach.

Day 1: Starting with a bang (but not the sort we wanted) - post by Vic Dobos

Mt Otake erupting. Photo credit: AFP Photo / Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Chubu Regional Development Bureau Jiji Press via

The day before we were due to depart for Tokyo on the 2014 ASTA Science Teachers Exchange - Japan, I received word that Japan was under possible threat from a tropical storm. This seemed eerily familiar, as we faced the same issues last year. Dangerous and damaging storms are not uncommon in Japan, and the people regularly demonstrate extreme resilience in the face of them.

Then, at approximately 1.30pm on Saturday 27th September, just hours before we were supposed to depart, nature surprised everyone with a curve ball.  Mt Ontake in Central Japan erupted, releasing a plume of fine ash and gas. Whilst this event in itself is not on the scale of some recent volcanic eruptions, its suddenness made it the first eruption since 1991 to claim Japanese lives. 

Leah, Robyn and I had just arrived at Sydney Airport when news of the eruption broke. Communication from Qantas was unclear, but we eventually learned our flight had been delayed until 11am the next day. When Gary, Sarah and Danielle arrived we collected our checked in luggage and headed to a nearby hotel to regroup.

As excited as we still were about our trip, the seriousness of this event and the heartache of the families affected was recognised, and our deepest sympathies go out to them.

The phenomenon of an eruption without warning is extremely unusual. The science behind it is very interesting, particularly for geoscience enthusiasts. You can learn a bit about it here.

We woke on Sunday to a glorious spring morning. Our group also regained our spring and headed off to the international airport for departure: take two. At precisely 11am, the 4 Rolls Royce engines of our 747-400 were to opened to full throttle and we gently lifted off tracking north over the city and heading for Narita.

The excitement level was starting to build once more and our conversation returned to our planned adventure in Japan. Unfortunately, our delay meant we had nissed our visit to  Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. This had been a highlight of last year's trip, particularly the chance to see the marvel of modern robotics, ASHIMO. The delegates were philosophical about the loss; we were all safe and well, with an exciting week of experiences ahead of us. ASHIMO will still be there next time.

After a good flight and the chance to watch a movie or three, we touched down in Tokyo, pumped for what was ahead of us.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Welcome Sarah and Danielle

Sarah Chapman and Danielle Spencer are our final two teacher delegates  of the inspirational travelling to Tokyo as part of the 2014 ASTA Science Teachers Exchange - Japan.

Sarah is the Head of Department of Science at Townsville State High School, North Queensland. She has a passion for developing science programs that are innovative and engage students in becoming more involved in science, aware of their environment and actively involved in their community.
She also devotes a large amount of time to designing and delivering a range of innovative science professional development workshops in order to improve the standards of Science teaching. Sarah has been recognised through numerous awards, including the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

Danielle is a Primary School teacher at Mitchelton State Primary School, Mitchelton. QLD, who loves discovering the world again through a child’s eyes. She particularly enjoys teaching Science and watching the looks on children’s faces when they experience something new. Danielle currently teaches a very animated and multi-cultural Grade 6 class, and runs three extra-curricular science clubs at her school; SC@M (Science Club at Mitchie), SC@M in Space Astronomy and a Robotics Club.

Along with fellow teachers Gary Tilley and Leah Taylor, and ASTA President Robyn Aitken (also a teacher) and CEO Vic Dobos, Sarah and Danielle will be taking off for Tokyo this weekend.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Welcome Gary and Leah

Gary Tilley and Leah Taylor are two of the inspirational Australian Teachers that will be travelling to Tokyo as part of the 2014 ASTA Science Teachers Exchange - Japan.

Gary is a Primary School teacher with over 30 years’ experience in public education. He is passionate about teaching and communicating science and has been instrumental in initiating a community wide movement to bring “real” science into schools by turning Seaforth Public School into a Natural History Museum. The school houses its own Space Gallery, Dinosaur and Marine Reptile Gallery, an Earth Sciences Gallery and a new Marine Sciences Gallery. The students, their families, the school and the broader community, as well as educational and scientific organisations, have embraced the notion of immersing the children in a world of science within the school.

Leah works as a coordinator and teacher at St Anthony’s Parish Primary School, teaching Year 1. She is responsible for assessment, numeracy and science at her school. Leah is President Elect for the Science Teachers Association of the Australian Capital Territory, and supports teachers across New South Wales and Canberra, providing professional learning for individual schools and whole school systems. She is a member of a number of steering and reference committees addressing the teaching of science and the provision of professional learning for teachers, especially Primary School teachers.

We are pleased to have Gary and Leah along for the 2014 ASTA Science Teachers Exchange - Japan.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Our new banner!

Our ASTA Japan exchange banner arrived today! It's getting close to departure date. ASTA CEO Vic Dobos is getting pretty excited.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Only two weeks to go!

ASTA Science Teachers Exchange – JAPAN: Improving intercultural understanding and forging professional connections between international organisations and individuals.

Learn about last year's visit at

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Announcing the 2014 ASTA Science teachers in Japan delegation!

On Saturday 27th September, ASTA President Robyn Aitken, CEO Vic Dobos, and four primary and secondary teacher delegates will leave Australia, bound for Tokyo, Japan. In the week that follows this enthusiastic team of educators will dive into a sea of new experiences, in an effort to strengthen cross-cultural bonds and expand the boundaries of their science and teaching skills and experience.

The ASTA-Japan exchange has run, in various forms, for several years. This year the program is being generously supported by a grant from the Australia-Japan Foundation (AJF), which gave ASTA the opportunity to cover the bulk of the travel and accommodation costs for the successful applicants. One of the main objectives of the AJF is to "increase understanding in Japan of shared interests with Australia" and it is fantastic that education is recognised as one of those shared interests.

The four teacher delegates, selected through an application process, are: 
  • Gary Tilley, Seaforth Primary School, NSW
  • Leah Taylor, St Anthony's Parish Primary School, ACT
  • Danielle Spencer, Mitchelton State Primary School, QLD
  • Sarah Chapman, Townsville State High School, QLD
As well as visiting some of Japan's iconic scientific and cultural icons, including the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (MIRAKAN), the National Museum of Nature and Science and Sky Tower, delegates will have the opportunity to observe Japanese primary and secondary science classes (including a Super Science School) and lead classes of their own as a guest teacher.

You can follow the adventure on this blog, as well as through the ASTA Facebook page ( and Twitter (#ASTAJapan14).