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Top honour for Science Educator

- Wits University

Professor Marissa Rollnick is admired for her efforts in unlocking more creative teaching practices among science educators.

A teacher can affect eternity: (s) he can never tell where (her) his influence stops -  Henry Adams

This is an apt quote to describe the impact of science educator Professor Marissa Rollnick whose reach goes beyond Wits and the training of local teachers.

NARST, a worldwide organization for improving science teaching and learning through research has bestowed on Rollnick, its highest honour, the 2018 NARST Distinguished Contribution to Science Education through Research Award.

The award recognises scholars who have made contributions to, provided notable leadership in, and had substantial impact on, science education through research over a period of at least 20 years said the organization. NARST celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.

Professor Marissa Rollnick

“I feel that this award that marks the pinnacle of my career, and beyond my wildest expectations” says Rollnick, an NRF B-Rated researcher.

Rollnick who has over 34-years’ experience in the area is not only respected for her research but is admired for her efforts in unlocking more creative teaching practices among science educators.

This can only be done by instilling confidence in teachers, she maintains.

Her inaugural lecture was titled The complex dilemma of subject matter knowledge for Chemistry teachers. What is to be done?

Having worked first with Foundation Programme students in the science faculty and then with both pre-service and in-service teachers to change their understanding and teaching of science content, she is encouraged that there are signs of progress. Formerly her research was based on the effect of language on the teaching and learning of science but now she looks at Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) which is specialised knowledge possessed by teachers on how they transform science content to make it comprehensible to learners. Her current research focuses on how PCK can impact learner achievement. Her proximity to teachers does not colour her outlook and does not hesitate to share her views with the public, through media commentary, about the state of science education in South Africa.

Her ongoing mission is to “improve teaching in our classrooms through the use of conceptual, rather than rote learning approaches and to improve subject matter for teaching science in our country.”

In 2013 she was recognised with the Long Service Award by the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (SAARMSTE). The body has congratulated Rollnick on this latest accolade which brings honour to the region.

About Professor Marissa Rollnick

Emeritus Professor Rollnick completed her BSc and teaching diploma at Wits University. She thereafter obtained her masters in chemical education at the University of East Anglia and her PhD in 1988 at Wits University.

She has taught at teachers’ colleges and universities in Swaziland for 15 years before returning to South Africa in 1990 to take up a position in the University. In 2005 she was appointed Chair of Science Education in the Marang Centre for Mathematics and Science Education at the School of Education. She held the positon of Director at the Centre from 2010 to 2016 before retiring.

She has graduated 16 doctoral and 27 masters’ students and has published 72 refereed articles, book chapters and books. Her book Identifying Potential for Equitable Access to Tertiary Level Science: Digging for Gold (2010) explores the issues of access focusing on the ways in which equal opportunities to learn have been implemented in tertiary education in Southern Africa, where models include the provision of access, foundation or ‘second chance’ programmes that have opened the door to vast numbers of new students.

In South Africa, where the push for equity has been strong since the demise of apartheid, programmes have been established at all tertiary institutions, with some of the most successful of these programmes based at universities characterised by a high research output. As a result, the last decade has seen a great deal of research into the effectiveness of these programmes. Although examining the issue internationally, the book draws heavily on lessons from South Africa where considerable experience of such programmes has been accumulated.

Book synopsis extracted Springer.