CLWB Down Under


C/O Swinburne University – Kilometer Sq. Array. 

If you are reading this using a device connected to WiFi thank Australia. I’ve been lucky enough to spend two weeks in the birthplace of WiFi, the feature film, the electric drill and of course mass education technology (School of the Air). Here’s some highlights:


Simplifying Astronomy 

Thanks to Sarah Maddison for this wonderful insight and set of resources:

Astronomy is a fascinating subject of interest to people of all ages, and a great way to expose people to all areas of science, from physics to chemistry to geology and geophysics and even biology. For example, Astronomy can be used in the International Baccalaureate IGCSE Mathematics with students between 14-16 years to learn Number; Calculation of powers and roots; exponents; estimating; calculations involving time; solving problems involving speed, distance and time.

Astronomical objects are often structurally complex and can be difficult to visualise, so astronomers at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, lead by Sarah Maddison, have been developing a set of 3D PDF documents that allows students to see objects in 3D and interact with the structure – rotating and changing positions, zooming in and out.

To view the 3d PDF documents, just download the latest version of Adobe Reader, download the documents, and run them on your device. (The 3d feature does not work within a browser, but works beautifully across platforms in Adobe Reader).

Swinburne has some wonderful astro 3D PDFs freely available online – see Explore the orbits of the planets in our Solar System and the smaller bodies like asteroids and Kuiper Belt Object ( and zoom into real asteroids to view fascinating shapes (  Check out Swinburne’s online astronomy course – Swinburne Astronomy Online for more terrific materials.

The software used to create the 3d models is called S2PLOT – see

3D PDF has great application beyond astronomy and I’m looking forward to seeing its creative use in many other learning scenarios.

Mars Lab

Another great Australian initiative is The Mars Lab – a re-creation of the Martian surface and a robotics lab in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. Mars Lab offers High School children a Project Based Learning experience based on the search for life on Mars. With relatively inexpensive equipment, there is no reason why schools couldn’t have their own extra terrestrial environment, and CLWB can help with this.

Pushing the Boundaries 

Since “School of the Air” Australia has always pushed the boundaries of technology in education. Lessons from schools such as Hermit Park and Eltham College, and statewide systems such as Queensland’s Smart Classrooms were documented in Schooling at the Speed of Thought. More recently, New South Wales has pioneered e-testing with online Essential Secondary Science Assessment (ESSA) tests in New South Wales and Melbourne University are pioneering the electronic assessment of 21st Century Skills (

Speaking at the “Education Technology Solutions Magazine” 2014 Award for Innovation, industry veteran and Head of Judging Panel, Bruce Dixon said “we’re seeing a shift in schools across the country towards recognition that innovation is becoming a mainstream responsibility for school leadership teams. Schools acknowledge that the world in which their young people are growing up in demands fresh thinking and new ideas around engagement for achieving improved education outcomes”.

Whilst Australia’s leading schools lead the world, there is also  much to learn from schools in disadvantaged areas, such as Upper Yarra Secondary School, just north of Melbourne. Here, children have an options program that covers no fewer than 22 modules, each aimed at giving practical and valuable skills. This includes:

  • “Green Machine” – a program designed to make the school greener
  • “Robotics”
  • “Human Powered Vehicle”  – designing, building and testing vehicles
  • “How to Fly an Aeroplane”
  • Astronomy

(Thanks to Patricia Broom)

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