Most of us only consider infectious disease when we see an outbreak on the news, are preparing to travel or ensuring our child’s vaccination schedule is up-to-date. But thanks to a STEM Professionals in Schools partnership, year 10 students at Townsville Grammar School are learning so much more.

One of the STEM Professionals in Schools' longest running partnerships is going strong. For over 10 years, Dr Carolyn Moores, Head of the Faculty of Science and Professor Natkunam Ketheesan, a Biomedical Scientist with expertise in infection and immunity, have been inspiring year 10 students.

Working with Townsville Grammar School's biology teachers Rachel Baumeister, Iain Faichney, Lizzii Watson and Amanda Young, Professor Ketheesan creatively brings his real-world knowledge of infectious diseases and vaccination into the classroom. The partnership has been so valuable to the school that it has adapted its curriculum to ensure the three-week program continues through changes to the Queensland biology curriculum and with Professor Ketheesan moving interstate.

Dr Moores, Professor Ketheesan and the school's biology teachers restructured the program this year and have created some fantastic teaching tools, including two educational videos: Minute but mighty: our cellular saviours and Immunology in 333 seconds.

Apart from the reading and discussion material, students also work in groups to:

  • stain blood films and observe the different immune cells in blood
  • create fake wounds of various types – both infected and uninfected
  • research and write about a vaccine preventable infectious disease of their choice.

    Making fake wounds was a popular activity, but only a few students wanted to add fake puss...  ©{STEM Professionals in Schools participant, Prof Natkunam Ketheesan}

The final project brings together all that the students have learnt about the importance of vaccines and requires them to create a poster targeted at the public and designed to curb falling vaccination rates. Although this activity didn't contribute to their grades, the students approached the exercise enthusiastically and produced an array of poignant posters.

Winner of student poster competition - Yellow Fever  ©{STEM Professionals in Schools participant, Prof Natkunam Ketheesan}

The posters were assessed by a team of academics at the University of New England: Gal Winter, Richard Charlesworth, Robert Hart and Mary McMillan. Then Professor Ketheesan flew to Queensland for the final part of the three-week program and provided each class with a summary on the immune responses to infection and the importance of immunisation. He gave feedback on each poster and awarded certificates of merit to the winners.

The STEM Professionals in Schools team is very pleased to hear the partnership is continuing across state borders and Professor Ketheesan, Dr Moores and Townsville Grammar School's biology teachers and students will continue to reap the rewards of the program. The student survey results are also an indicator of how valuable the partnership is:

  • 65 per cent of students expressed a desire to select STEM subjects at university
  • 90 per cent of students with no interest in pursuing a university education or in undertaking STEM subjects at university level, found the information they got from the different activities during the three weeks in their Biology class, to be either 'useful' or 'very useful'. One student wrote "….it is pretty good, I actually learned something…"

About STEM Professionals in Schools

STEM Professionals in Schools is a free volunteer program that facilitates flexible, ongoing partnerships between STEM professionals and teachers in schools across Australia.

Run by CSIRO and funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, the program supports the curriculum and increases the skills, knowledge and confidence of teachers and STEM professionals, while showcasing STEM career paths for students.

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