Meet the teachers selected for the It IS Rocket Science! Teacher Trip to Japan

Meet the Teachers Selected for the It IS Rocket Science! Teacher Trip to Japan

Thanks to a grant from the Australia Japan Foundation ten lucky Australian educators will travel to Japan to participate in the JAXA Space Education Office Educators Program; work with Japanese teachers, scientists and engineers; visit Tanegashima Space Centre and Miraikan; and bring back lots of ideas that will then be used to develop educational materials.

VSSEC received many high quality applications and the selection of the final group was very competitive. The final educators were selected for their passion and enthusiasm for science and their plans to share their experience with their students and the broader teaching community. Follow their blog at

The educators traveling to Japan are:


Vivienne Eckersley

My name is Vivienne Eckersley and I am the Head of Science at Aitken College in Greenvale. I teach VCE Biology and Chemistry as well as Junior Science.   I am also a CoDirector for Science Talent Search where I coordinate the Photography Section and coordinate the Judging for the Judging Days that are held every year.  I am very excited to be going on this amazing trip to Japan and I can’t wait to learn about their space technology and bring that knowledge back to the classroom to excite and invigorate the students’ enthusiasm for Science, especially in the Physics area.

Paul Natoli

I completed a Bachelor of Space Science from LaTrobe University in 2008 and then completed a Grad Dip Ed in 2009 at University of Ballarat.

After graduating I was offered a job at Ballarat High School to teach senior Physics and Maths. I currently have a Yr 11 Physics class and two classes in the lower levels. I’m still very into Astronomy and frequently hold astronomy viewing nights with friends for those who wish to see the night sky and know more about what’s out there.

Naomi Mathers

I am a Program Developer at the Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC) and I’m very pleased to be working with our colleagues from the JAXA Space Education Office to make this opportunity available to teachers and help them excite our future scientists and engineers. I have a degree and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from RMIT and now enjoy using my technical knowledge and contacts to develop exciting hands-on programs for students and teachers. I’m a member of the Space Industry Innovation Council, the Engineers Australia National Committee for Space Engineering, the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Space Education and Outreach Committee, the Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF) Space Education and Awareness Working Group, and I represent VSSEC on the International Space Education Board.

New South Wales:

Ken Silburn

I am the Head Science Teacher at Casula High School situated in the western suburbs of Sydney.  Casula High is a co-educational high and has a reputation for high achievement in science and ICT. I am also the president of the regional science teachers association (LAZSTA). I am the recipient of the NSW Minister for Education Award for Quality Teaching, NSW Department of Education /Microsoft Award for Excellence in the Integration of ICT, an Australian National Teaching Award for Educational Leadership, and an Australian Academy of Sciences Teacher Award. I have a reputation for enjoying science and sharing my enthusiasm through professional development activities with other teachers. I am always on the quest for building my skills and knowledge.  In 2009, I attended the Space Academy for Educators Course at the US Space and Rocket Center as well as completing a course in forensic science with the Connecticut State Forensic Labs. My passion for science resulted in being selected as one of three Australians to participate in the NASA Spaceward Bound Project in the Mojave Desert. I have recently returned from a study tour to investigate effective use of technology in science education visiting the US, Ireland, the UK and Abu Dhabi.

South Australia:

Tony Virgo

I have been teaching for over 25 years and have taught at a number of schools throughout South Australia. I am currently teaching at Hamilton Secondary College where I have been there for the last 11 years. I am an experienced and active Astronomer and Astrophotographer who teaches Astronomy as a night class. I have been fortunate enough to experience firsthand many rocket launches and tests whilst working at Woomera as well as working with students to design, construct and fly payloads with ASRI (Australian Space Research Institute). I am a mentor for both  the South Australian Space School and National Space Camp Woomera.

Mike Roach

I have been teaching Physics, Maths and Science in South Australian Schools since 1971. I have been active in the SA Science Teachers Association over many years as Convenor of the Oliphant Science Awards, Secretary, Treasurer and President from 2000 to 2003, after which I was elected Treasurer of the Australian Science Teachers Association from 2004-2007. I have been involved in developing, writing and workshopping materials and activities in science for SA and Australian Curriculum since 1989 and have sat on Curriculum Development Boards at both state and national levels. My interest in Space Science and Astronomy resulted in founding the South Australian Space School for year 10 students in 1997 which has been run annually since then and I also coordinates National Space Camp Woomera (formerly the Australian International Space School) for year 11 students from schools throughout Australia. I am currently teaching physics at Hamilton Secondary College and am also an ICT Coach for the SA Education Department Learning Team. I have been awarded the Westfield Premier’s Science Award for excellence in teaching science; the Prime Ministers Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching (Secondary); the inaugural Honour Award for continuous voluntary contribution to SASTA; and the Distinguished Service Award for services to Australian Science Teachers Association

West Australia:

Mark Gargano

I am a science educator with just over 17 years classroom experience. I am currently the Science, Society & Environment and Technology & Enterprise Coordinator as well as being the Year 10 Coordinator at St Joseph’s School in Northam Western Australia. Within these roles I have developed a dynamic team with creative programmes that involve rocket launching, field surveys, excursions and investigations, particularly within the Year 10 space science elective, where students conduct research and development in robots, rovers, space suits, mission planning, hydroponics and astronautics history, this has enabled interested students of all academic abilities to study specialized modules and conduct experiments of their own choosing. I have previously been acknowledged for these science activities through National Excellence in Teaching Awards in 2004 and 2008. I am always keen to develop connections for my students with outside organizations, as the Education Director of Mars Society Australia and 3 time attendee of NASA Spaceward Bound (Including the recent expedition to Namibia), I ensure the students find out the latest information from these activities and conduct authentic research in the classroom. I will be investigating further next year the links between student research, motivation and retention via a PhD programme at Curtin University of Technology. ‘I feel very lucky in being selected and I look forward to experiencing this exciting professional learning opportunity, particularly the tours of the space centres and the JAXA Space Educators course. I believe that through linking with other like-minded teachers and getting hands-on experience from the scientists and engineers will lead to the creation of some very exciting student resources’.

Marina Pitts

I am a science teacher at a large, metropolitan high school in Perth, Western Australia. I have also taught computing and Italian. This year, I am on study leave and have commenced my PhD at the University of Western Australia.


Stuart Maish

I have taught in NSW and for the last twenty odd years I have been teaching in Queensland schools. Living in rural areas, I have spent many nights out tracking satellites, planets and other stars in dark 'clear' skies. The internet age has deepened my fascination with space vehicle launches and shuttle returns as 'live' events and these have been a wonderful opportunity for a variety of informal lessons with students. A corner of my current school at Delaneys Creek would be a perfect place for a small building, housing a large telescope, to open up the night skies for the whole school community which would hopefully inspire the students to dream big! I also have a keen interest in IT and I’m a keen long distance runner in my spare time.


Penny Ackroyd

Hi, I’m Penny. I have been teaching for 15 year and enjoy every day I step into the classroom. I’m currently teaching at Distance Education Tasmania. My classroom this year is an on-line one which I have found extremely interesting because you need to be so structured and organised and yet still allow students the opportunity to explore scientific concepts and skills. One of the challenges is designing experiments to demonstrate the concepts with things that are around the home. This is where I have drawn on the gift that my Grandfather gave me through his enthusiasm  for science and to show and explore scientific ideas and concepts just going for walk but using your senses and observations.  One of the things that I hope to do is to conduct a couple of classes while we are in Japan.