Global Teacher Prize Australian finalist Richard Johnson is in it for the thrills


Global Teacher Prize finalist Richard Johnson with a 3D printed harmonograph his Rostrata students created. Picture: Matt Jelonek        d450283
Global Teacher Prize finalist Richard Johnson with a 3D printed harmonograph his Rostrata students created. Picture: Matt Jelonek        d450283

This month Steven Hawking announced Mr Johnson as the only Australian finalist in the Global Teacher Prize, a worldwide recognition of educational leaders.

“Steven Hawking said my name… but the announcement was so much more than that,” Mr Johnson said.

From his “classroom of the future” in Willetton, Mr Johnson engages youngsters with hands-on projects such as building Formula 1 cars using high-end software, disguising physics principles in play.

“I think you are probably at your best when you don’t realise you are learning,” he said.

Mr Johnson began working at Rostrata Primary 25 years ago and before opening his now famous lab, strived to challenge and engage young people in science.

“I struggled to teach science well enough in the normal program,” he said.

“I approached (then-principal) Tom Campbell and asked to establish this lab.

“He went with my idea and we have never looked back.”

Supported by crowdfunding, donations from local businesses and a $25,000 grant from the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Teaching, the lab today has a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) focus.

“I think we underestimate how good kids are in science,” Mr Johnson said.

Using technology to engage with augmented reality resources, such as the popular Minecraft and working with robotics, students become deeply involved in scientific principles traditionally considered difficult.

“Our latest STEM effort to bring physics to the school has been through our Jaguar car racing challenge,” Mr Johnson said.

“Kids design their own cars using software Toyota and Boeing use.

“Critical thinking begins when you are tying your shoelaces so whatever we do, we ensure it is hands-on … I think this lab is ahead of its time.”

Mr Johnson said he was thrilled with the interest in his lab and had hosted foreign teachers looking for innovative ways to involve their students in science.

“The lab never stagnates,” he said.

“The program always evolves … the past 11 years have been the most exciting of my life.”

The winner of the Global Teacher Prize will be announced next week.