The Most Important Ingredient for Learning

Found in: SCEA News | Published on: 23 February 2016

“My style is not to lecture but to question, creating space for students to make sense of what they are learning," says Mary McLean, Head of STEM at Ellenbrook Christian College. Mary is the kind of teacher we all wish we’d had growing up. 

“I was raised on a farm in rural Canada. Surrounded by chickens and lambs and a father who was an engineer, I was a curious child who was forever learning about the world and finding wonder in things,” begins Mary.

“My formal experience of science as a child was not particularly great, mainly because we didn’t have the relevant resources or materials in Canada, but also because there was more focus on teaching us the content than on ensuring understood it.”

A chance meeting with a dashing young Perth man at a church camp in Scotland brought Mary to Australia some years later, where she commenced as head of Stem at Ellenbrook Christian College in 2014.

“A focus of my Masters Degree in Curriculum Design was on how people learn and the most effective methods of translating our knowledge as educators into learning for students,” Mary said.

“The number one ingredient for learning is motivation. I believe we are capable of learning everything we want to learn. As such, I always ask myself  “why do the kids want to learn this?”

“I also think that we learn first with our hearts, then with our heads. It is simple biochemistry; if we have a positive feeling about something, the learning becomes more natural.

“Another key ingredient is providing multiple pathways.  As we know, most students have a preferred learning style; some like to learn by hearing, others by reading, yet others like to learn with their hands and so on. I have learnt that, regardless of their preference, if we present things in multiple modalities, the understanding will be deeper,” said Mary.

Mary facilitates both the Annual Science Fair at Ellenbrook – an event which other SCEA schools are keen to implement too – and the hugely successful Science Academy. Open to all SCEA and local schools, the Science Academy runs on a Monday afternoon for students from year 4 – 9.

“This year we are introducing a chemistry stream in addition to the biology and physics and engineering streams. Students choose their own project in an area that interests them most and expert teachers in those fields lead the streams, reinforcing the relevant scientific principles and basic tenets for each project. 

Highlights of the Science Academy from previous years span a broad range of experiences and are too numerous to list!

 “Most kids find the world absolutely wonderful - and those that don’t, can often have that wonder reignited. It is so exciting to see students exploring, discovering for themselves and taking control of their own learning so they can start to make scientific connections in their day-to-day world.

“My favourite thing is seeing the delight on their faces when they learn something new, when it fits and it works,” Mary concludes.


You can contact Mary via Click here for more information on the Science Academy.