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Ep17 – Ben Newsome – FizzicsEd making learning Physics and Science FUN

Ben Newsome is a Science educator, and founder of @FizzicsEd, a leading Australian provider of interactive science workshops. He believes that we should connect with others, share ideas, and go beyond what we know. Check out his website here: 

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Rita: Hello everyone and
welcome back to Teacher Chatter, an Australian podcast made by teachers, for teachers, about teaching. Today’s episode is  brought to you by edQuire, AI for teachers.

I’m Rita 

Laura: and I’m Laura. Rita and I are both teachers currently living in Sydney. I am an Italian language teacher working in high schools and Rita is an Australian primary school teacher. Today we’re very happy to chat with Ben Newsome. Welcome Ben!

Ben: Thanks so much for having me.

Rita: Welcome Ben. Now I understand you teach STEM related subjects as an outreach specialist from preschools to
Year 10. STEM has become a really hot topic in education. Why do you think it’s so important that both boys and girls learn STEM?

Ben: Oh yeah. I mean STEM is massively important and the good news is that boys and girls have equal capabilities to do STEM in all different ways. And what I love about STEM is that we’re surrounded by it! No matter where they work in their future lives or how they’re hanging out in classroom or home now there’s always STEM things happening and so engaging in STEM is such an important thing and I love it that teachers are getting involved.

Definitely. Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths – it’s everywhere you look, and often overlooked by so many of us! 
You’re also the founder of the physics education website where teachers can find useful ideas and articles about anything related to science.

What was your inspiration to create this resource?

Ben:  Yeh, sure.  So physics, and that’s a really old website, but FizzicsEducation So that’s F I Z Z I C S education (now I didn’t spell that too well did I!?) – the resource itself is designed to help people. So yeah we’re outreach people we go out to hundreds of schools every year in regional areas as well as metropolitan throughout Australia. But we constantly got asked ‘How do I do this experiment?” or “How do I do this project?” And so we built out an area on our site which has over 150 free experiments where they can simply go to the local shops, pick up the materials and follow the procedures step by step to get at some sort of science result but hopefully also vary something. So they see a real experiment happen. The kids love it and let’s be honest as educators we’re often  trying to find those lessons that will work. You know, have a bit of fun sometimes, but that’s where it came from.

Rita: That’s very good. I think as a teacher, yeh the free resources particularly would be pretty popular amongst primary school teachers that I can think of.  

Ben: We actually see a lot of museums and zoos around the world use it, partly for the podcast and things at this point but there’s quite a lot of stuff on that website.

Rita: So in the physics education website there are articles about ideation as a process for trying on what might be possible. Could you explain what this is all about?

Ben: Yeh sure, so the  ideation side of things came out of just… we’ve been through ourselves through different professional development workshops as educators as well as people who are involved in business and ideation is something it’s done in organizations globally to look at what people look at all around in your organization, in your classroom. They’ve all got different backgrounds, experiences and ideas that can contribute to a given problem. And so the reason we sort of staged out what does the ideation process look like, it’s really borne out of what we’ve seen in professional development programs. It’s for
teachers where unpacking people’s backgrounds and experiences and things can make a huge difference into solving a problem in a unique way. Takes a bit of time but it’s a lot of fun at the same time.

Laura: Sounds like it. I could imagine teachers could get really involved in that kind of thing, and sometimes putting themselves into the shoes of a student can really not only be a lot of fun, but also help them understand the learning from a students’ point of view. What are some of the best ways you have used or seen technology used in schools? 

Ben: Well tech is used in lots of different ways. Often it’s based on resourcing I mean you have pencils as a technology all the
way throughto 3D printing and all that sort of thing. So it’s the how, what resources  the schools have, and then how much time can they actually put towards those resources being used? Some of the better way I’ve seen is when they’ve integrated it. It doesn’t seem like ‘Now we’re doing Tech, now we’re stopping Tech. Now we’re doing History, now we’re stopping History. We’re going back to Tech’. It’s nice when you see these project based learning things happen where Tech is just a part of the bigger picture of what they’re doing in their scope and sequence and rather saying ‘Here’s the best way’, I’ve seen people do it and what’s a way where they’re doing video conferencing or they’re using flip grid a tech tool for working out what people are thinking in the classroom, whether they’re 3D printing of seeing whether they’re coding a robot. There are so many different ways I can’t say they’re all each one better than the other. They’re really based around what learning outcomes do we want
the kids to get and that’s really great because we get to see hundreds of places doing it and all in different ways.

Rita: Yeah I think the integration of the technology into all of those different lessons, it’s come a long way from when technology was first, well when digital technology was first introduced into classrooms, it was a lot of tick a box. ‘Yep we’ve used it today. Yep we’ve done another PowerPoint. Seeing this kind of integration it’s really quite, I think it’s inspiring and it’s got to be the way of the future with technology.

Ben: But can I throw in there that probably what I’ve seen, at least in a lot of places, it’s really powerful when you let the students do it themselves and often take a role as the leader in the room. Having that learner agency makes such a difference
because once a kid goes ‘You know what? I know how to do this and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion I know better than my teacher’,

They start, really start helping the kids not in their own classroom they can actually lead it eventually anyway they’re emulating those skills they’re going to use one day outside of school they can do it now and it’s really cool. I think if I was going to have to say that that’s probably the best way that I’ve seen Tech,  is when you let students do it themselves. And yes let’s see what happens.

Rita: Yeah. Take away all those inhibitions and let them do a bit of risk taking.

Ben: Yeh, it is. I mean it’s always been uncomfortable when you first do it because you’re not quite sure where they’re going to go but that’s the way learning works. So as long as you can  can build you know you can sort of guide them in a way that you
want them to go towards because you know we still got to get through our certain outcomes you want to hit, but at the same point giving them that freedom to explore in play usually means the kids understand the tech better than they just being a thing they’ve rote learned because the teacher said so.

Rita: Yeah that’s right. Speaking about play can you tell us a bit more about this virtual excursions Australia that you’re the co-founder of? What exactly is that?

Ben: Yeah sure. So amongst doing outreach to schools, we were doing a lot of video conferencing about 8 – 9 years ago so that kind of gives away the time of this conversation, so it’s 2019 – so quite a few years ago we started doing video conferencing into remote and regional schools because we we’ve been invited to go out to  schools but that’s a higher expense because someone’s got to drive there, stay overnight, do the things with the kids, and head back home. It cost triple,
four times, five times the price of a traditional metropolitan visit. And the thing is right across New South Wales at the time with the connected classrooms program where in every single school there was somewhere where a video conferencing piece of equipment was sitting there, really is a window to another world that kids could dial into and learn from. And so we start doing
that video conferencing in the schools oh gosh back in 2011 or something. But we weren’t the only ones. There were museums and zoos and aquariums and all these different, cool places –  libraries and the rest doing this. But it was siloed. It was, some people were doing it in best practice and others were trying to do best practice but they hadn’t seen best practice. So what virtual excursions Australia was was born out of a actually actually in the back of a conference that was in Cairns where fa few of us got together and said ‘You know what? Why don’t we just chat monthly where we can talk about what,  works what doesn’t work and all the rest?” and so that got turned into virtual excursions Australia. It’s not so much busier as busy these days I mean there’s still people involved it. But one of things that luckily to receive was a Churchill Fellowship to go to North America to visit a whole bunch of museums right across North America as well as school districts to find out how they were connecting to remote audiences by videoconference and that had a similar group like virtual excursions Australia which I kind of founded over there called Pinnacle Education Collaborative which is another 35 different museums in North America that are working with tens of thousands of schools all over the place, and virtually EAxcursions Australia has at its peak had 40 museums in Australia. So it’s kinda like a share share space, like how you think PL ends on Twitter with teachers often hang out with, it’s kind like that – a shared space for these museum types doing business education.

Laura: Yeah there’s a world out there you’re very right. Yes the world outside Australia and particularly in the USA is so big compared to us here! And now that we are living in what they call a global community, it makes sense to have a shared, online space, to collaborate and learn from each other. Ben, we’re going to have a break now very short break and hear from our sponsor. 

Rita: So is virtual excursions Australia still a thing?

Ben: It’s still a thing but it’s sort of sitting there as an idle thing like there’s still people involved. But at its true peak was about 2016. But we found some places aren’t doing doing it as much. So there is real momentum going on. And then it started to fizzle a little bit where as from 2014 onwards. The North,  I mean I had a meeting with them only yesterday. There’s about 30 museums doing this and a bunch of school districts all heavily involved in it. The issue in Australia is the the it just seems that it was an okay thing to go for a little while but then systems changed in Australia in terms of how people connect, those rules and boundaries are put in place from departments that sort of blocks people and people sort of just lost speed momentum and so it’s there, I mean the websites still there,  to let me know that’s not going to be okay. How do we access that might be what I can start with after this. All right. Well actually what your safety net for us.

You could start with does ask the question since I’m the only guy with a broader way of actually seeing it because there are actually about 300 places and I’m actually an ex-president of the city what is it. If it is International Society for Technology in Education and there’s 20000 educators around the world that meet every year in a massive conference in the state usually in there there’s a serious serious appeal end and one of them is a video contrasting group. So there’s about fifteen hundred educators in about 300 museums that people can connect with. There is a far larger thing than virtual education in Australia. We can talk about it certainly because we believe in what. Yeah but I might give a bit of a scope to go even further than that.

Laura: So welcome back. And ah Ben, you were talking about Virtual Excursions Australia. Can you tell us more about it, or where can we access it, or any other information?

Ben: Yeah sure. Absolutely. So if you type in ‘virtual excursions Australia’ into your favourite search platform you will find it in some way shape or form. It’s a very standard simple website built out of WordPress, so you might take a little bit to load up but you will find in there a number of cultural organisations, is not just in science, it’s also right through from the Sydney Opera House through to ACMI down in Melbourne so there’s all sorts of places where you’ll find their contact details and how to connect with them in some way shape or form. You’ll find some older events, there might be some more populated soon, but certainly that’s how you find it. Virtual excursions Australia – just type it into Google or whatever and you will find it.

Laura: Thank you. Perfect. I understand you’ve been teaching overseas as well. Have you noticed any similarities or differences and is there any particular country that you worked in that you think is the ideal educational system? 

Ben: Hmmm there’s a curly one in that! That’s right. So all right. What’s it like to teach overseas? I’ll just say straight up. It’s amazing! it’s fun! It’s awesome! It’s great and I recommend it for anyone who might have the chance to go overseas and even it
doesn’t have to be in a formal education setting. I also got to teach in informal in a summer camp in California which is fantastic and doing science clubs in China. So again this is a school thing so the way that the international thing has there’s a different curriculum and there’s different ways about going about education but in reality most kids are just kids
eventually. I mean they’ve got different cultural backgrounds and different ways of doing things. But as a whole they’re, they’re inquisitive and just as vibrant as the next child from the next country. So I would say that teaching overseas it’s getting a head around what are the structures that are built around the education system that you’re teaching in,  but eventually is a science educator. Newton’s Laws don’t change. It doesn’t matter what country you’re in. And so it doesn’t matter what curriculum outcome they’re making you take this time. Newton’s laws to apply it. And so you still do the same experiments and things irrespective of what the actual curriculum dot point actually is. I mean within reason. Working with the kids themselves. There’s a language barrier I know I as an outreach provider when I was doing science shows in China, presenting in a second language is challenging especially we’ve got several hundred people in front of you, and I don’t speak Mandarin, I just
don’t. But making sure you frame your wording is critical because there are certain words that in that particular setting that there actually wasn’t a translation, just wasn’t. And so the poor translator was trying to work out how to say slime but I remember him sort of saying  ‘The thing that’s not quite solid, but not quite liquid, and it runs’, or something like that.

Laura: You get the idea. Yeah yeah.

Ben: So yeah you know what I mean! Maybe it’s not exactly the same, but you can have those challenges
there are unexpected. Resourcing’s different. What you think is here, is in Australia, it’s easy to get. It’s certainly not always the case overseas and people have different names for it too. 

 You had the curly question in there too, what was it again?

 Laura: If there is an educational system?

 Ben: Yes, Which one’s the best. I don’t start a bunfight so I won’t.

The thing is that I would do say really simply, and I think most people would agree, teachers just try and do the best they can with what they’ve got. So I mean is these chops and changes where things are happening in Europe better or something coming better in Southeast Asia or wherever it is. People catch up very fast I mean the internet is a highly connected place with teachers sharing ideas all over the globe. I mean I’m lucky enough to be involved in the ‘International Society for Technology in Education’ which has thousands tens of thousands of educators globally to work in about 20 different KLN’s to share ideas around all sorts of areas around them in tech and an idea in one country is very quickly spread to another country. So what I tend to find is you get teachers doing amazingly cool stuff irrespective of what the paradigm is, the bureaucracy around them and bureaucracy then catches up. Often there is a friction point between the people who go out on a limb and try new stuff but as a whole I think that the education systems at a global standpoint sort of starting to even out over time over time. Yeah that’s the differences and disparities but I think we’re a pretty malleable lot and we do what we can.

Rita: Speaking about trying new stuff, I’ve never used this but can you tell me more, or tell us more about the use of augmented reality in the classroom? What’s it used for? 

Ben: Augmented reality. So if you’ve ever used it just I type in ‘augmented reality app’ into your favorite search engine and you’ll find a bunch. There’s a lot of free ones. Some of them you will have a pay for and you – it’s usually only a couple of bucks. But what is useful is, imagine if you’re teaching a kid, I mean imagine you’re trying to teach a kid about what’s inside
a cell and the traditional way is video or PowerPoint or here’s a worksheet or whatever it is. The kids learn about there’s a nucleus and all the rest. But what’s kind of cool is augmented reality, and there are different apps around, is you could put your Ipad, Android tablet thing over a sheet of paper that happens to have the right design on it so that all of a sudden what pops up for the child looking through looking at the screen is a 3D object. In this case it could be the cell that they’re learning about where it could be a volcano they’re learning that the thing could be erupting or it’s got motion and it’s
interactive and you can click on things, and so you see what’s happening and peel away layers of the tree and look at what’s inside it. That’s what augmented reality is. It’s a layer of reality that’s not doesn’t really exist but the tech version of it. A simple way to think of AR is that Pokemon Go. But that was really a layering of digital space over what you get to see in front of your eyes and it works really well. Yeah.

Laura: And for people who might be struggling for science lesson ideas in their classroom what could they gain from watching something like Lego Masters?

Ben: Oh I like Lego Masters, so if anyone’s listening in from overseas I mean Lego I think there’s a Lego Masters  in the UK as well. There’s a bit of a global phenomenon. If you haven’t come across it just think of a whole bunch of teams building Lego stuff to a time challenge. And so what I love about that from a STEM point of view for our own classrooms is you can take those ideas. I’ve got a set amount of time and a set amount of material and I have a problem to solve. That idea can be applied in so many ways to students of all different ages. Preschool right through to high school. And so if you’re
sort of struggling with ideas the classroom lessons looking at Lego Master is not a bad idea because you might think: “You know what? I’ve got this boat challenge, a floating challenge. Can I use some aluminum foil and get them to float a certain amount of mass in a set amount of time? Do I”… I  mean the one that’s often quoted is an egg drop challenge or if you’ve got a kid that egg allergies use water bombs instead, dropping an egg or a water bomb off a certain height but having a structure built around it so that things survives before when it hits the floor.

Rita: That reminds me of Modern Family. There was an episode like that on that show, Modern Family, I don’t know if you’ve seen that. Sorry!

Ben: Absolutely. Those things are awesome and they’re, they’re actually quite a carrot for the kids to do the other lessons that they may be struggling with, and go: ‘You know, what if I get, if I do if I do good I could do this.” Or you can look at it the other ways you can look at them as build challenges to enmeshed them into more traditional lessons. So yeah Lego Masters is great. Love it.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah. Because you develop critical thinking problem solving skills so definitely.

Rita: Ben, we’ve recently spoken to a teacher about the importance of emotional responses in the classroom and how they can affect performance and learning and we know that you’re an advocate for the power of positivity in the classroom. What advice do you have for teachers and students who are feeling less than positive in class?

Ben:  I’d certainly say what I’m an advocate, but I’m definitely not an expert. So this is my take your grain of salt with your interesting words but the my feeling around it, if  you’re feeling a bit deflated is take a step back. Whether that is an educator I mean when you get overwhelmed especially around report time. On the getting through that potential drudgery
or whatever can get you down. So maybe taking a step back and actually completely disengaging, disconnecting from you social devices and all the rest and just going for a walk on the beach or in a river or a forest or wherever
you happen to be and just sort of recently yourself and maybe playing something kind of fun with your students. And just for a moment. I mean we often talk about some schools do a “Genius Hour” together whereas just here let’s just make something cool. Maybe you could implement if you’re feeling a bit negative about what you’re doing, or if students are starting to feel a bit down as well is just, just step away, just for a moment from that treadmill and go you know what let’s just add a little bit of life to your particular what are you currently studying. By doing something a little ad hoc a little bit unusual even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes just something that breaks it up and you will find that over time they your own momentum will build. And so will the

Laura: Yeah that’s good advice. Stepping back and getting a little clarity or perspective on things, taking a short break from the
stressful situation, can make a real difference. And talking of advice if you could go back in time and tell your younger self one piece of advice about teaching what would it be?

Ben: My one piece of advice is there’s not one piece of advice. I don’t know. I mean. Well I get a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ with that answer. No they. The one piece of advice is a continual learning thing. I mean there’s a cliched idea of it’s a journey but a
hope that it is. So what you know is a teacher when you’re outside you get 20 years out 40 years out of university or college. It changes over time. Probably the best advice would be connect with others and that means also going beyond not just your four walls but your four fences of your school. There are educators all over your city, town, village, in your state and at the global level that you can be collaborating with and all you can do is find them through Twitter just typing in ‘#edchat’ and  in some way you’ll find them. And I mean I’ve been in a couple of different places like things at Australian podcasts. Maybe join the #AussieED or #PrimaryStandardChat and there’s a bunch of these other types of chats around whereby you can find highly
motivated, highly professional educators from all over the place completely willing to share ideas resources and everything else. And that’s where you’ll get your inspiration.

Rita: Some very good ideas there. We’d have to add on #ChatterTeacher to that list. Last question for you for the day. If you could take on the persona of any superhero or if you could have just one superpower, what would it be?

Ben: Oh dear I think if I think my wife .. ahh is it Batman, Superman, I dunno. The Batman thing would be cool because I get to say “I’m Batman”.. But if there was such a thing that I got to choose that, I suppose whilst not my favorite character I say Superman because I feel that at least if the magazines or the cartoons are right, he’s got the me the more powers are therefore I can do the most good.

Laura: Well that brings us to the end of today’s podcast. Ben, it’s been a real pleasure chatting with you.

Ben: Thank you very much for having me. Have a fantastic day.

Laura: Thank you, and you too. Thanks again to edQuire for sponsoring us, and it’s Ciao for now!

Teacher Chatter is proudly sponsored by edQuire – helping schools and teachers work collaboratively and safely in this digital age.



Ben Newsome
Ben Newsome believes in the power of STEM and has made it his life's work to educate the future generation about physics, sciences and technology.

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