Guest Post: Phil Spark

Today’s guest post is written by Phil Spark, Discovery’s Education Officer.


I first heard about Discovery when our family moved back to Bendigo from Sydney in 2000 and my sister, who had a family membership, invited my wife, our children and me to a visit Discovery with them. Being an astrophysicist, a science teacher and a university lecturer, I was in my element as soon as I walked in the door. All aspects of the Centre “pushed my buttons”, from the Planetarium which covered my love of astronomy and spaceflight, to the Vertical Slide which shows gravity in action, to the hands on exhibits that allows visitors to explore science in their own way in their own time.

Two curious kids at Discovery

In 2005, I was fortunate enough to commence as a staff member of this fun-tastic place where I conduct Planetarium shows, throw people down the Vertical Slide, mess around in The Lab with schools and generally interact with visitors throughout the Exhibits areas. The greatest reward from working at Discovery is the interaction with people as they explore things they may have been familiar with in a new way and seeing the “light come on”.

A Curious Kid in action

The biggest reason as to why I love Discovery so much and why it is a vital facility for the community is our Curious Kids program. Curious Kids, which is held on the first and third Mondays (and the following day as well), is for children aged 3 to 5 years and their carers. As the facilitator and presenter of the program I get to read a story to the attendees and then we explore a science concept that is related to the story in some way. Just being able to watch the interaction between the children and their carers and to facilitate these ‘Oh Wow!’ moments is priceless. No monetary value can be placed on these times together but Bendigo and the world would be a much poorer place without The Discovery Centre being able to provide these experiences for  everyone.


If you’d like to help keep Discovery open, click here.

If you have a story about Discovery you’d like to share, contact manager@discovery.asn.au – but do it fast, because our campaign ends on 31 July 2015.

Guest Post: Phil Spark

Guest Post: Teagan Brown

Hi my name is Teagan Brown. I am a proud Bendigo local, studying a science based PhD at La Trobe University here in Bendigo and I have worked at the Discovery Science and Technology Centre for over six years now.

I have been interested in science from a young age and I fondly remember visiting Discovery as a child. I was so captivated… how many cool things can they fit into one building? It was for me a realm of new investigation and quite literally Discovery, all of which is available in our own backyard.

It was the first year of my Bachelor of Science when an advert circulated at university seeking casual employees for the centre. This was the most awesome prospect ever and it seemed like the ideal first job for me given the scientific nature of the place! I couldn’t wait to become a member of the team that actually was responsible for inspiring the next generation of scientists, so luckily I got the job!

I love the place as much now as the first day I started. There is something really special about engaging in a persons’ uncovering of the world. There is also never a ‘dull’ day at Discovery, children mastering their fears of the vertical slide, enjoying the wonders of space in the planetarium and the awe of the exhibits and science workshops.

There is science in everything that we do day-to-day and it is the underlying reasoning of how and why a lot of things work. It is often taken for granted just how much a science background can shape your life. It is the kind of subject that you learn but can always find out more about. The centre helps children and the local community to harvest their natural curiosity and further understand the world around them. Critical thinking of the world and its happenings is crucial, especially in childhood development promoting lifelong learning, so the Discovery centre is more than just a cool place to go, it actually helps the wealth of our society.  #saveDiscovery

The author with two other Discovery staffTeagan Brown is in the middle of this pic

Do you have a story about Discovery you’d like to share? Contact manager@discovery.asn.au – we’d love to hear from you!

You can help to keep Discovery alive by supporting our crowdfunding campaign. Crowdfunding is all about connections, so please spread the word among your friends, family and networks that Discovery is worth saving, and contributing to the campaign is a concrete way to help! Thanks in advance.

Guest Post: Teagan Brown

Guest Post: Punching above your weight

Today’s guest post was written by David Holmes.


I started as the Manager at Discovery at the start of 2013. Prior to getting the job here at Discovery, I had worked in a variety of education roles at Museum Victoria, Melbourne Aquarium, and Melbourne Zoo. The Discovery Centre is tiny in comparison to those organisations, but one thing was immediately clear to me: it sure knows how to punch above its weight. Those involved with Discovery over the years can rightfully be proud of what has been achieved with a very modest budget and minimal staff.

One of the earliest glimpses I had of Discovery’s ability to do a lot with a little came from a conversation I had with one of our workshop staff, Jim McGregor. I had recently seen a travelling science exhibition called ‘Playing With Light’ created by the Scitech science centre in Perth, where my favourite exhibit had been a wall of photoluminescent material that allowed you to ‘freeze’ your shadow when a light opposite flashed. I was delighted to learn that the Discovery Centre had just the same exhibit- ‘Frozen Shadows’, and that it had been built in-house. I asked Jim about it, and he proudly told me that he knew for a fact that the Scitech exhibit would have cost somewhere in the region of $15,000 to build, but that using a combination of donated and secondhand materials, he had built our exhibit for only $400. Sure, our exhibit doesn’t have the same polish as Scitech’s, but the effect is the same, and visitors absolutely love it.

That’s not to say that everything at Discovery is about making do with modest budgets. Another area in which we punch above our weight has been our success with grant money. Thanks to shrewd grant applications, Discovery boasts a professional Planetarium dome, bathroom and kitchen facilities to accommodate school sleepovers, a newly-renovated Lab Workshop, and energy efficient lighting, air conditioning and passive cooling treatments for the building. The list goes on. These all came about with investment from government and philanthropic funds: $1.5 million in successful grant funding over the last 10 years: not bad for a little science centre in Bendigo, eh? It would be a shame to see this investment go to waste.

Finally, if you want bang for your buck then consider the reach that Discovery’s programs have: we only employ the equivalent of 5 full time positions, but we get visits from 10,000 students a year from schools across Victoria (and beyond). We have close to 20,000 public visitors a year on top of this. We develop and deliver Planetarium shows, Science Shows, Lab Workshops, Holiday Programs, Teacher Professional Development, Birthday Parties, Sleepovers and special events. All of this happens through the hard work and dedication of a handful of very passionate staff and volunteers.

If you like the sound of an organisation punching above its weight, then please get behind our crowdfunding campaign, and chip in a donation of whatever size you’d like. Not only do we need the funds right now to keep operating in the short term, but a big contribution from the community would send a very loud message that we value the Discovery Centre, and that it deserves some long-term funding security.


If you would like to contribute a post to this blog, please contact manager@discovery.asn.au

Family holding saveDiscovery sign

Guest Post: Punching above your weight

Guest Blog: Emily Goode

My name is Emily Goode and I am currently Voluntary Explainer at the Discovery Science & Technology Centre. I first started volunteering at the Discovery Centre in 2013, as a VCE student at Bendigo Senior Secondary College. This was when the volunteer-run school holiday activities became a regular part of the Discovery’s program. I am now completing my Bachelor of Civil Engineering (Honours) at Latrobe University Bendigo; I truly believe that without the Discovery Centre giving me the backing and confidence in science and engineering, I would not be on such a male-dominated career path.

When I was approached about writing a post about why Discovery should stay open and how it has personally affected me, my first instinct was to do some research on primary school science. The Discovery Centre plays an important role in exposing children to science, to aspects which they may not get in class. An average child (pre-school to year 6) has 1.1 to 1.8 hours of science per a week1. This is particularly sad as this only makes up 3-6% of the school week – but Discovery fills part of that hole in children’s science education. The Discovery Centre is also important as it has science and lab faculties for students to use to give them a chance to experience scientific lab techniques and perform experiments; only 18% of public primary schools have all or most lab faculties (24% for independent schools)2. For regional students, Discovery is sometimes their only chance to experience hands on learning; these statistics above just show the lack science in the classroom.

Discovery is also a great place for younger people to see a range of sciences and have a gender-neutral experience within science. Discovery’s exhibits cover a large range of different sciences without being marketed at a particular gender; and this gender bias is still largely present – it’s easy to see toys that relate to physics and engineering are marketed at boys. This is important to me as a young woman studying engineering – every child should have the change to try every science without noting gender bias. That is one of reasons why I volunteer at the Centre. I want to encourage and help children regardless of gender to learn about science, just as the staff at Discovery helped me grow into my science-loving self. They gave me and many other girls the encouragement we needed. We discovered that just because we weren’t male didn’t mean we couldn’t do more than just teach it – we could be scientists, engineers, programmers or anything else we wanted.

Discovery inspires children to become innovative and think creatively about tasks. I am a firm believer that people learn best when they have to work out the process for themselves and can play with the exhibits. Discovery is renowned as being very hands-on compared to other science education centres; this is often mentioned to me by visitors in the Centre. This creative interaction with exhibits encourages the next generation of inventors – those people that will make big changes to society, lead to the creation of jobs, and discover more effective ways to complete everyday tasks. Numerous children and teenagers are scared off by the stereotype of science being solely note-taking and hard – something many science classes have sadly become; Discovery, however, shows the fun and excitement in science, and this undoubtedly motivates more children to get into a field which is in need of young people’s minds.

To end this post, I would like to say that the debate about Discovery’s future shouldn’t be about its closure, but how much more funding it should get. Thanks for reading this post and thank you, Discovery, for helping me and so many children to reach our scientific potential.


If you have a story about Discovery that you’d like to share on this campaign blog, please email manager@discovery.asn.au 

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Guest Blog: Emily Goode

Science education Centres are creating Australia’s young innovators

As the Bendigo community decides whether to keep the Discovery Science and Technology Centre open, it may be pertinent to consider recent research on the impact of science centres and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, and their place in Australia’s technological and industrial future. This piece, written by Craig Cormick, originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 1 January, 2015.


Will building a hands-on science centre in outer Sydney lead to an increase in students in the area studying science and engineering, and, subsequently, an increase in innovation? It is an important question to ask before committing funds to the project.

Australia likes to pride itself on being an innovative nation but the reality is that the benchmark for innovation has moved a lot further beyond inventions such as the Hills Hoist, stump-jump ploughs or fencing wire solutions.

Building a science and innovation capability along with an entrepreneurial culture should be priorities for Australia.

To build a nation that values learning, science, technology and skills, a lot of attention has been placed on education in schools and ways to better teach, or increase participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Rather less attention has been placed on developing creativity, imagination and thinking skills.

STEM education in schools is important, of course, but we should also understand that a huge amount of scientific learning occurs outside of the limited school hours.

In a challenging article in American Scientist, US researchers John Falk and Lynn Dierking stated: “The ‘school first’ paradigm is so pervasive that few scientists, educators or policymakers question it. This, despite two important facts: average Americans spend less than 5 per cent of their life in classrooms, and an ever-growing body of evidence demonstrates that most science is learnt outside of school.”

While Australia is not America, the point is well made, and we need to remember that learning is lifelong, and much of the science and technology we learn at school will be increasingly out of date as we grow older.

A 2014 survey by the Australian National University shows that the three major ways that the Australian public engage with science is through: talking with friends and family (82 per cent), visiting a science centre or museum of other science-related place (66 per cent) and listening to a science debate or lecture (42 per cent).

This raises a crucial question as to where we should be putting our efforts if we really want to widely improve public understanding of science, technology and innovation. Australia needs a strong, informal learning sector working alongside school-based education.

Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, receives almost 430,000 visitors a year to its buildings in Canberra, and reaches out to another 560,000 people through its travelling programs. The most well-known program, the Shell Questacon Science Circus (approaching its 30th anniversary in 2015) visited more than 330 venues last financial year, covering 20,000 kilometres around Australia. And, vitally, prior to the Science Circus visiting these places, many of the residents in these communities had limited access to this kind of science exposure or interaction. Also, through national programs that are Questacon-led, such as National Science Week and Inspiring Australia, another 2 million people are reached.

These are significant numbers in anyone’s view, but another critical question for the dozen or so members of the science centre sector is: what impact are we having?

As science centres evolve,we need to make sure that we are having an effect. We need to know that we are not just measuring delight on the day, and know that the way people engage with us has a catalytic effect on increasing their interest in science, or even prompting them to consider scientific careers.

The International Science Centre Impact Study was commissioned by a consortium of 17 science centres (including Questacon) across 13 countries, and found that for both youth and adults, visiting a science centre significantly correlated with increased science and technology knowledge, as well as interest in science as a school subject.

In particular, the study found that visiting a science centre significantly correlated with increased confidence and curiosity in science as an out-of-school activity. Not surprisingly, the longer, and the more recent a science centre experience was, the stronger the correlations were.

This is not the first study that looked at the affect of informal science learning, but it is the first on this scale.

An earlier study undertaken by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that is used to benchmark student levels in different countries, showed that a major predictor of high achievement on their test was having participated in out-of-school, free choice learning experiences, such as visits to science centres.

It is known from other research that attitudes to science careers are formed primarily outside of school time in early adolescence; the ages of 12 to 13 are critical for engaging people in science and keeping them, or losing them. Free choice learning experiences are the greatest contributors to adult science knowledge.

As the Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, has said: “We must align our scientific effort to the national interest; focus on areas of particular importance or need; and do it on a scale that will make a difference to Australia and a changing world.”

Dr Craig Cormick is a science communicator who has worked for CSIRO Education and Questacon. In 2014, he was awarded the Unsung Hero of Science Communication by the Australian Science Communicators.

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Science education Centres are creating Australia’s young innovators

Education outside the capitals

Although the gap is narrowing, ABS statistics show that there are significant differences between the education standards of those who live in Australian capitals versus those who live elsewhere.

For example:

  • fewer people living outside a capital city have gone on to education beyond school, and
  • fewer have achieved a Bachelor degree, or higher
  • people aged 15-19 years who live in a capital city are more likely to be engaged with any sort of educational institution than their non-capital contemporaries
  • the further you live away from a capital city, the less likely you are to complete Year 12
  • indigenous people, overall, are less likely to be engaged in formal education, and the level of disengagement increases the more remote their home is.

Bendigo has a longstanding tradition as a centre of education. With respected institutions and innovative educators aplenty, Bendigo can hold its head high among major regional cities.

The Discovery Science and Technology Centre is another, unique part of Bendigo’s educational landscape. With its broad appeal (check out all these happy faces snapped at Discovery recently!) and its focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths, concepts which are so vital to Australia’s success in the 21st century) Discovery is a truly valuable component in Bendigo’s educational ecosystem.

As you may have heard, Discovery needs to raise $30,000.00 by the end of July to remain open. We have already reached 25% of that target, which is just wonderful! We’re overjoyed to have received this support from the Bendigo community. However, we now need continued support to ensure we reach our goal.

If you’d like to help us #saveDiscovery, this post contains a list of actions you can take – and yes, there’s plenty we can all do, even if we’ve made a contribution!

And if you have been meaning to make a contribution but haven’t yet done so, click here. Be part of something historic, and help us keep this precious centre in Bendigo.

Happy boy holding save Discovery sign

Education outside the capitals

Guest Post: Brandon Hocking

Today, Save Discovery is proud to bring you the first of our guest blog posts. Enjoy!


Brandon holding a #saveDiscovery sign

Hi my name is Brandon.  I’m 14 years of age and I’m in year 8 at Bendigo South East College. Last year I was part of a project at Discovery to learn about maths.  We made a show called “Dimensional” that looked at geometry. We learned about shapes and angles and other geometry.  It was really fun and interesting doing all the activities to make the show, and then I got to be part of the show and come on stage and illustrate some stuff about angles.

We did the show to help kids learn about shapes and angles in an interesting way. Because it’s fun and interesting they don’t even realise they’re learning stuff.  I think it was really fun for the audience, but it was just as much fun for me and my friends to be part of the show. I felt happy and proud that I could do that [be part of the show].  My cousin came along, and my aunty, and my Mum and Dad and they all really liked it.

It helped me get into Bendigo and help out and volunteer.  After that project I came and volunteered at Discovery during the school holidays.  One of the activities was making marble runs: you had to try and make a marble run down a wall using pieces that join up and fit together to make a path. My job was to help visitors have a go of the marble runs.  At first people were really shy but then you’d start and they would really get into it and enjoy it and they stayed for an hour or so.

Through being part of Dimensional and volunteering at Discovery I can understand how Discovery can motivate kids to learn about science and technology and how things work.  There’s lots of things at Discovery like this, and since I have been at the Discovery Centre I have learnt heaps of stuff too, not just about maths, but about electricity and how electricity flows and things like that.

My mum was saying we don’t have many things in Bendigo like this, so I hope that Discovery is saved so that younger kids can come and learn about science and technology.  There’s lots of exhibits around the centre.  I like the racing car exhibit.  I like the vertical slide, even though I’ve never been on it!  It’s different to a normal slide – it’s massive and it drops straight down.  All the kids love it.

I hope that the Discovery stays open for the next generation of kids.


Do you have a Discovery story to share? Email manager@discovery.asn.au

Guest Post: Brandon Hocking