Deborah Corrigan

Emeritus Prof

1992 …2023

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Personal profile


Taking on the science and STEM challenge

Any teacher of chemistry could explain the structure of water. So when Professor Deb Corrigan asked chemistry education graduates attending a workshop to come to an agreed understanding of that very thing, no one saw it as a demanding task. All, she says, assumed at the beginning that they had the same ideas. But it took the entire three hours of the workshop for the group to reach a consensus.

Challenging accepted wisdom like this is often part of Deb's approach in her research, which covers a wide range of teaching and learning issues but is chiefly driven by the urge to make school students enthusiastic about learning science and more recently STEM.

The title of one of Deb's research projects, funded by the Australian Research Council, neatly encapsulates her goal: 'Engaging students' hearts and minds'.

She has taken on the challenge posed by the persistent decline in school science's popularity, but notes that public interest in science and STEM remains high. For exmaple, 'Things like Scienceworks, museums and aquariums are the highest tourist attractions in nearly every country,' Deb says. 'I look at what kids see as important in science and why they are so interested in it out of school but not in.'

One problem is that whereas public domains offer a version of the most up-to-date science and interdisciplinary approaches such as in STEM, the science classroom tends to be a setting for whatever the teacher was successful at learning, possibly some decades ago.

'Often I see a fairly traditional view about what science and science education are,' Deb says.

As Director of Education Futures at Monash Faculty of Education, she finds time for translating research despite the demands of that role and her extensive work at state and federal level in curriculum development and policy.

'I do a lot of work with teachers, seeing what they think is important in science adn STEM education,' she says. 'They respond very well to that because someone is challenging their thinking and engaging them. It's the same process they need to do with their students.'

Deb's work goes beyond school education, encompassing the demands of teaching chemistry to people such as artists, who use it in lithography, and nurses.

This experience underscores another of her key concerns: the need for teachers to take both context and students into account so that classrooms become more than just a place for mastering facts.

'As a chemist, I know a lot about acids and bases, for example,' she says. 'But if I am teaching school kids, it takes a different form to if I am teaching artists, because they have a different purpose for learning it. It doesn't mean that the facts are any different, it's just that you package it up very differently.'

Her water definition task with the graduate students is in itself an illustration of how a teacher should be able to engage students who all bring different understandings to the classroom.

'You have to come to an agreed meaning or explanation,' Deb says. 'It's the consensus making and the argument and the clarification of ideas that is the important part. You do the same thing with kids so they have a lot of ideas challenged and clarified, all at the same time.'

We need critically creative thinkers to make science teaching better, she says.

'There has to be recognition from science teachers that you're not just reproducing science in school, you're actually educating people in science in ways that should be meaningful for them.'


Research interests

Teaching strategies that enhance greater student understanding 
Science and STEM education that captures student interest and is relevant to social functioning

Industry and technology links with science education

STEM education and policy 

Practices that encourage reflective thinking and teacher change
Documenting professional practice e.g. teaching portfolios and evidence of practice Preservice Teacher education
Professional Experience in teaching
Professional learning
Mentoring practices in professional settings

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education

External positions

Councillor, Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) (Victoria)

31 May 201630 Apr 2019

Director, Haileybury

15 May 2013 → …

Executive Advisor - Senior Secondary Science, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) (Australia)

1 Jan 201231 Dec 2014

Editor, Onderzoek naar wetenschappelijk onderwijs (Research in Science Education)

1 Jan 201231 Dec 2016

Director, Australasian Science Education Research Association

30 Jun 2010 → …

Councillor, John Monash Science School (JMSS)

9 Mar 2009 → …

Research area keywords

  • science education
  • STEM education
  • STEM policy
  • Values of/in Science
  • relevance of science education
  • chemistry teacher education

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or