Science in action

Posted April 6, 2018 in School News By Community Relations

Seven weeks of exciting talks by Wesley College Scientist in Residence, Richard Tonello, literally ended with a bang as the engaging astronomer made use of the Science Centre’s Drop Zone.

In order to demonstrate the principles behind gravity and how different objects are pulled towards the earth equally, Mr Tonello dropped a golf ball and a cannon ball simultaneously through the three storey space.

The Year 4 pupils watched with hushed interest as the objects fell, letting out a roar of excitement as the thump of the cannon ball reverberated around the room.

“Teaching them about astronomy like this pushes them in the right direction for picking up science later in life,” said Mr Tonello afterwards, who is the Senior Astronomer at the Gravity Discovery Centre Observatory, Gingin.

“It inspires and captures the imagination.”

The first of many talks 

The presence of Mr Tonello is part of an initiative launched by Head of Junior School, Maria Hodges, to inspire the children by giving them access to leading Scientists in Residence. Mr Tonello’s lessons are the first in a series that includes a range of notable Western Australian scientists.

“We really wanted to build on our STEAM program to provide students with an exciting classroom which embeds hands-on, real learning and breaks the traditional gender roles. It is learning related to the 21st century. Jobs that may not even currently exist will rely on this way of learning and thinking, so it’s very valuable,” said Mrs Hodges.

For Mr Tonello, who is an accomplished public speaker, the challenge was addressing an audience a little younger than the one he’s usually used to.

“This is my first time doing this at a school. Usually I lecture at Edith Cowan University. But it’s been great, I’ve really enjoyed the experience of being here at Wesley. The children are just so excited to learn. I walk in and they all want to say hello or ask a question. I wish university students were like that!” he said, with a smile.

Complex concepts brought to life

Another demonstration in the science lesson, which had the upbeat ambiance of a TED Talk, saw Mr Tonello rolling objects around a structure not dissimilar to a cloth trampoline.

The aim was to bring to life Albert Einstein’s theory that matter changes the shape of space, but it’s space that tells matter how to move. It was an incredibly visual way to learn a very complex scientific principle about why planets move around the mass of the sun.

It also had the children building on their knowledge from previous weeks, with hands shooting into the air to ask about wormholes and the space-time continuum.

“One of the advantages of being able to give a series of talks [as opposed to a single lecture],” says Mr Tonello, “is that you build up familiarity with the children and the teachers. It gives the children time to process the information and get thinking about questions to ask me the next week. It’s a huge topic, so having their questions answered is so important.”

The truth of that statement was evident as the children considered the idea that gravity holds galaxies together. Although, at that hushed point, the only force stronger than gravity was the hold Richard had on their attention.

At the end of the lesson Mr Tonello was presented with a card and some warm words from one of the pupils, Charles: “We’ve learned a lot and our interest in astronomy has grown. Thank you.”

The College is thrilled to have had Mr Tonello work with the students this term and looks forward to welcoming him back for another series of science lessons in the near future.

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