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

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Guest Post: Punching above your weight

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

That flash of elation

I’ve written about the worry and heartache associated with crowdfunding; but until now, flashes of elation have only been mentioned in passing. No more, my friends!

Look at the big, green digits on this screenshot taken just now:

Flash of Elation

That’s right, folks, our campaign has passed its halfway mark! Kick up those heels and join me in a happy dance of celebration!

Yes, yes, I know “halfway” isn’t the same as “we’re there!” but still, it is a remarkable achievement, especially since we managed it in less than half the time we have to raise the full amount.

So let’s take a moment to congratulate each other, to say “Well done!” and feel that flash of elation.

We can use this pitstop to energize ourselves for the next two and a half weeks. You see, to keep Discovery open, we need to raise at least $14.5k before the end of July. It’s enough to bring us back to earth, isn’t it?

However, I think the odds are stacked in our favour:

  • I just know there are plenty of people out there who care passionately about Discovery but haven’t pledged money yet. We can ask ourselves: what can I do to persuade them to contribute?
  • We have some wonderful rewards on offer, suitable for people who live in Bendigo and people who live elsewhere. For example, there is just one ticket to the Bendigo Blues and Roots Festival left – I wonder who’ll snap that up? Or tickets to the amazing Science of Chocolate evening!
  • As a reader of this blog, I want to tell you something special: there are new rewards coming soon! Keep your eye on our campaign page. Who knows? You might be the first person to grab something unique!

If you’re looking for other ways to help us #saveDiscovery, click here for ideas. Otherwise, let’s enjoy this flash of elation together, and keep moving forward!

That flash of elation

Those big, green digits

I’ve been staring at these big, green digits for the past 24 hours, willing them to click over $15k (the halfway mark), and they’ve stubbornly refused to do so.

Oh, you don’t know which big, green digits I’m referring to? These ones:

Save Discovery big green digits

Yes, I mean those figures in the top right hand corner of the screenshot, that say how much money has been pledged to the campaign so far. They’re on my computer screen. They’re in my dreams. They dance before my eyes. They’re everywhere!

Remember how I mentioned the emotions involved in crowdfunding? Upon reflection, I neglected one very important emotional emotional state: heartache.

I don’t know anyone who’s started a crowdfunding campaign who hasn’t truly, deeply cared about the outcome. I’ve met people who’ve crowdfunded films, alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic drinks, clothes, social enterprises, events, small business expansion, charitable works, sanitary pads, stationery, and even fashion shows. (For people with intellectual disability, from outback Australia.) What I saw in each of these project creators was a willingness not only to put time and effort into their campaigns, but also to put their heart on the line.

I guess this is how I feel about the #saveDiscovery campaign. I really care about whether Discovery stays open or not! – and I know the $30,000 we’re raising is necessary for that to occur.

I know I’m not the only person who cares passionately about whether Discovery continues to operate or not. If you care, too, there are many things you can do; and one of the most important of those things is to contribute to our campaign.

OK, enough spruiking already! It’s time to get on with my day job. But I’ll just take one more peek at those big, green digits … oh. No movement since last time.

Remind me: why we do this to ourselves? To Save Discovery, of course!

[Editor’s note: If we do get over the $15k mark in the next little while, it will be a huge achievement; we’re only 11 days into a month-long campaign, so to achieve 50% of the target this early would be remarkable!]

Those big, green digits

Interview with Catie Morrison, former Discovery staff member

When did you work for Discovery? 

I started before Discovery opened in 1995, and stayed on as one of the two Visitor Services Managers for a few years.

What did you do?

Heaps of stuff! That’s one reason I loved working for Discovery. I worked with volunteers, trainees, and other paid staff; did science shows, and took outreach programs to schools, the most notable being the Coliban Water show which was a lot of fun (despite getting quite wet and cold some days!). We designed special programs for senior, TAFE courses and VCE groups, as well as primary and secondary students. I even went firewalking for Discovery – twice!

I remember that we were gearing up for the Megaslime holiday feature when my sister was visiting from interstate. I was making slime of various colours and will never forget her face when she saw my kitchen – slime galore …

Of course, Discovery didn’t have air conditioning back then, and I hadn’t realized that slime becomes less viscous with heat. We were sure to store those tiny plastic containers upright after finding a rainbow puddle one day!

Do you have a favourite Discovery memory? 

Gosh, so many. I don’t think I can pick just one. I was just so proud of Discovery and what we were doing there! Earlier this week, I had dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen since those days. She remembered me showing her around Discovery and described how happy and proud I looked.

Why were you so proud of Discovery? 

Growing up in a small town, I’ve always been a keen advocate for regional Australia, and Discovery was the first interactive science centre based in a regional city. I was proud to be a part of that. I really admired the vision Bendigo City Council and others had, of housing a new science centre in a heritage listed building. I loved the building – even with its heat during summer, and all the dust that Noel would vacuum up each morning! I was proud of the partnerships with other organisations, industry and business that our Director, Peter Comiskey, was able to negotiate. I was proud that we could take on trainees and help them gain valuable skills. I could keep going, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stop there!

Do you think Discovery should be saved? 

Absolutely. It’s always much harder to build something up than to close it down.

How are you supporting the #saveDiscovery campaign? 

I’m doing pro bono work for Discovery, advising on their crowdfunding campaign and the publicity around it, supporting the campaign on social media and managing this blog.

What would you like to say to other people? 

Please help the team to save Discovery! Contribute to the crowdfunding campaign, share its link (chuffed.org/project/save-discovery) as much as you can on social media, talk to your friends and family, and visit the Centre if you haven’t been down for a while. You can get your picture taken with the #saveDiscovery sign, take some flyers for your neighbours, ring up the local radio station – get creative!

Catie Morrison Headshot

Interview with Catie Morrison, former Discovery staff member

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: Tom Seddon

Today’s guest blog post is by Tom Seddon. Enjoy!


About Tom

The Bendigo Trust, where I was CEO from June 2005 to last November, was my third career.  It came after years of developing investment funds and then serving as director of a pair of international scientific conferences in 2001 and 2004.  The Trust was my “tree change”. I particularly liked the variety of the job: tackling groundwater control problems that threatened Central Deborah (and much else besides) in the morning might be followed by a meeting with engineers from Yarra Trams on the new “W8” standard for City Circle trams.  In the afternoon I could be writing a grant application or project acquittal for Discovery and then visiting the old gasworks with someone from the Institution of Engineers.  Without any of the workshop, tramway, Central Deborah or Discovery the role — which I loved — would have been materially diminished for me.

I’m proud of what we accomplished during my time at the Trust: Tram Depot restoration and development; reopening the tram workshop (which is now almost too busy); Bendigo Tramways own vehicles restored and Melbourne trams given over to fun interpretations like the Jimmy Possum and the Schaller Studio trams; opening Central Deborah’s first new tour in 20 years, Nine Levels (and doing it for pocket change); putting the Joss House back in order.
However the biggest changes probably came at Discovery. We put in air conditioning; cool roof skylight and window treatments; showers for school sleepovers; LED lighting, new cabling, phone and data systems.  We built and borrowed exhibits, built The Lab and Kaleidoscope and transformed the planetarium.  We brought back science shows and holiday activities, took Discovery to Rosalind Park and Lake Weeroona, to the Showgrounds and to Eaglehawk’s Dahlia Festival.  And made modest steps into school classrooms.
This work showed up in our visitor statistics, which doubled to 30,000 per year.  By the way, that’s a higher percentage of the population within an hour’s drive of Bendigo than Scienceworks’ 450,000 annual visitors is of the population within an hour’s drive of Melbourne!
Is there more to be done? Always.  The staff have no shortage of ideas for exhibits to build.  I have a few myself, like the fire tornado I saw at the centre in Sheffield, England, or a double-helix observation tower that would put Discovery on the city skyline.
Discovery has an obvious place in Bendigo: it has a role to play in educating children (and adults) in central and northern Victoria: learning is a lifelong activity and we often do it best in interactive settings rather than by reading a book.  It has a role in being a part of a lively city that is attractive to new residents and useful (and, as we’ve recently seen, a source of pride) for current ones; it bolsters the city’s claim to being an education city.  It provides obvious partnership opportunities between the Council, La Trobe, local businesses and the Victorian government.
It’s fun as well.
The way the decision to jettison Discovery was executed hasn’t flattered either the Trust or Council. But perhaps it has been good for Discovery, which has seen the biggest outpouring of community support since a thousand people turned up on Discovery’s 10th birthday in October 2005.  I’m very glad that there is now pretty certain to be a 20th birthday later this year!
I encourage every Bendigo family to take out membership at Discovery, and for everyone else there’s plenty for you to enjoy as well so please consider joining too, supporting the Centre with a small donation, or even getting involved!

Do you have memories about Discovery you’d like to share in a guest post? Email manager@discovery.asn.au

Woman and child with Save Discovery sign

Guest Post: Tom Seddon