Dear PLC Sydney Community

Connections_Paul Burgis_vertical

The successful world record attempt two weeks ago was a wonderful community event. All groups in the College – students from youngest to oldest, staff, parents, community supporters – came together to provisionally break the world record for the ‘Longest Human Electrical Circuit’. It previously stood at 1113. We had 1315 in the chain. Our thanks go to Mrs Annie Martin and Mrs Linda Eades for their leadership. They were supported by the Science staff, indeed by the entire community. Well done PLC Sydney!

Such an event is symbolic of the College’s commitment to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). It is a cheerful symbol of our commitment to young women and girls to provide them with an excellent education in these fields. It is also a symbol of our commitment to community: everyone matters.

The real work in STEM, however, happens in the area of curriculum development. It is important to inspire students with rockets and robots, but the real scientists and engineers of the future will exist because of their (and our) disciplined commitment to studying a strong curriculum. The real computer programmers and mathematicians will have been enriched by the programs on offer.

Therefore I am very pleased to report that the changes that we have made over the past decade have made a significant difference in STEM education. Our analysis this year of PLC Sydney HSC results from 2006-2014 indicated that between the years 2006-2010 the lowest percentage of students scoring over 90% in Mathematics was 5% and the highest number was 24%. This contrasts with the years 2011-2014 when the lowest percentage of students scoring over 90% was 25% and the highest was 48%. Similarly the range of Band 6 results for Chemistry 2005 -2010 was a low of 10% to a high of 29%, whereas from 2011 to 2014 the low was 13% and the high was 40%. I note as an aside that results in English have also improved (Range of Band 6 results in English 2005-2010: 15% to 40%; Range of Band 6 results in English 2011-2014: 30% to 43%).


Why do we think this has happened?


One factor is connected to enrolment. We welcome between 10-15 students from Asia into our school in Year 10 and about half of these girls have a very strong Mathematics background. This would account for about 5% of the change.


More significant is the work undertaken by the Mathematics and Science faculties to refine their teaching and to provide a rich and fulfilling program. The Personal Research Project in Science is noteworthy, as has been the commitment of Mathematics teachers to the progress of students. We offer particular lessons for students who have English as a second language to assist them to learn the technical terms in English.


This underlying classroom work has been enriched by our Mathematician-in-Residence, Dr Dawe, who offers a significant number of girls opportunities to test themselves in challenging programs offered by universities and other educational agencies. He is supported fully in this by teachers who commit to extra marking to allow for this creative program to flourish.


When we come together for our Mathematics and Science evenings we celebrate the achievements of numerous students. Our Foundation has also been very generous in assisting students to attend the National Youth Science Forum.


I note the importance of curriculum development because it is curriculum that reaches every student. As well as the Board of Studies course, PLC Sydney offers The Cambridge Physical Sciences course in Years 9-10. It is available to the broad range of students, allowing middle years students to spend an extra five hours per fortnight mastering Science. A week like Mathematics Week and the introduction of tours for Mathematics and Science have enabled students who have not felt so confident in Mathematics to really enjoy the subject. We know some lovely stories of students whose attitude to Mathematics and Science has turned around in the six years they have attended the College. We now offer the UNSW Computer Science course in the senior years. In our Junior School Mrs Martin supports the work of teachers with her superb Science classes. We will be adding a Technology specialist to the Junior School next year teaching in a similar manner. We utilise the skills of experience senior teachers to support the learning of older Hamilton girls. These teachers are employed to inspire and engage all students. This wonderful start is reflected in our NAPLAN scores.


The next step for us will again involves Cambridge International curricula and is aimed in the first year at the most able students. Cambridge courses offer a level of Science and Mathematics that is more rigorous than the Board of Studies courses. Next year four teachers will have time set aside to develop a Years 9 and 10 program that teaches both the Board of Studies and Cambridge Physics and Chemistry courses. Our goal is to enable young women who wish to develop a deep understanding in the sciences to do so. We will continue to also offer the Cambridge ‘Physical Sciences’ course as an enrichment elective for the Years 9 and 10 cohorts.


Collectively this approach means that PLC Sydney students who wish to really engage with STEM careers post-school will have the opportunity to be very well-equipped for their future contributions to society. It also means that each PLC Sydney student will have the capacity to access excellent teaching in this area and to have exciting experiences. We also recognise student achievement.


This will not be recorded in the pages of the Guinness Book of Records like our human electrical circuit, but it will make a significant difference to young women’s lives.


Dr Paul Burgis