EDfutures Catalyst: Suzy Urbaniak

Suzy Urbaniak, CoRE Coordinator/Earth and Environmental Science Educator

Suzy graduated with honours from ANU in 1988 and started work as a geologist in the Great Sandy Desert, WA at the Telfer Gold Mine. She transitioned into the classroom, teaching science and promoting geoscience literacy, in 2004. Suzy maintains her industry networks and her role as Chair of the Australian Institute of Geoscientists, WA Branch, helps promote this association.

In 2016, Suzy won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. She was featured on SBS program “A Teacher Changed My Life” in 2017 and in 2018, was among 14 women inducted in to the WA Women’s  Hall of Fame. Most recently, she was featured on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes to discuss NAPLAN and the importance of having fun in the classroom.

She has received national and international recognition for the CoRE (Centre of Resources Excellence) model she developed at Kent Street Senior High School.

Hi Suzy! Tell us a bit about yourself.

“My name is Suzy and I love rocks and climbing volcanoes in my spare time! I did not want to be a teacher, but a personal situation of forced change meant that I had no other choice than to enter into education to support my three sons and myself. Since moving into the classroom, I believe I have successfully married my two passions of geology and the Earth with education.

I have developed the CoRE (Center of Resources Excellence) learning model based on my own experiences as an industry trained geologist combined with the need to produce home grown talent to service our resources industry. I developed #therealclassroom based on CARMA (Contextual, Authentic, Relevant, Meaningful and Applicable) learning which is an extension of my industry experiences – I was STEMming long before the STEM acronym was adopted and infiltrated into the community. I brought industry into the classroom and took the students out into the real world to meet with industry personnel. For me, it was about the relevance, purpose and meaning of learning and how it applied to potential career pathways; more specifically, the resources industry.”

What’s your teaching-learning philosophy?

“My teaching-learning philosophy is founded on two principles; the first being derived from my observations and experiences as a 21 year old when I started my journey as a geologist. I stood in that costean at Telfer Gold Mine and looked at it and thought to myself, ‘Why did I go to school?’. I knew all the theory about South African and Siberian geology, but I didn’t know how to be a scientist, I didn’t know how to be a geologist.

When I embarked on my teaching career and went back into the classroom, I noted that nothing had changed! What I saw was not science! Science is doing, science is being creative, it is about thinking, problem solving, investigating and inquiring; it is not about text books, worksheets and arbitrary tests! Secondly, as an Eastern States migrant, I noted that in the resources industry, very few (a small %) of employees within the professional areas came from Western Australia. Why, in a resources hot spot of the world, were students not aware of resources career pathways and the opportunities that they presented? From these observations, the CoRE prototype evolved and 13 years later, it is on the cusp of being expanded across the state.”

Tell us some more about CoRE; how did it come about?

“The CoRE philosophy is based on connecting industry, community, education and government (state and federal) to meet the needs of a sustainable future workforce for the resources industry in Australia. The resources industry is an innovator; to continue as a leading industry sector in the 21st century (and beyond), it needs individuals who have ‘4th industrial revolution’ social, emotional and technological skills. Individuals need to be adaptable, open-minded, collaborative and flexible. They have to be team players and motivated individuals whose diverse backgrounds, knowledge and skills can turn challenging situations into solutions. At the foundation to CoRE are the development of these personal attributes: self-esteem, self-belief and the ability to take risks. Failure and fear are embraced and mistakes become positive experiences.

Working collaboratively in business units, students are focussed on delivering unit components in a real world context, using project-based learning. All  team members have a role in ensuring that the chosen project is delivered in a timely manner, with the final product being presented at a town hall meeting. In CoRE, students become leaders, managers, coding specialists, young scientists, media presenters and fit break organisers who, for six periods a week, are expected to work both independently and collaboratively to time manage and organise the completion of the project. The students are ‘going to work.’

CoRE is a form of integrated STEAM education and the Western Australian science curriculum forms its knowledge and skill base. In a CoRE classroom, students have the opportunity to understand how their learning applies to real world and, more importantly, to potential career paths. Students are given the chance to showcase their diverse talents and intelligences across a spectrum of activities. There are able to demonstrate a realistic level of achievement and success.

CoRE works! It has an extensive network of alumni who are now active, engaged employees of WA’s resources industry. They are testament to its philosophy and vision.”