Dr Gary Turner with his new study guide.
Dr Gary Turner with his new study guide.

Former Noosa dux who became a calculating news hound

Go figure … many might not have seen the career U-turn coming for former Noosa District High School co-dux Gary Turner who these days is very much solidly grounded by the laws of physics he teaches to much younger versions of himself.

The head Of science at Xavier Catholic College Hervey Bay, is a former head of Brisbane Catholic Education senior studies, who has been commissioned by Cambridge University Press to co-author a study guide for the new Queensland senior physics syllabus.

However Dr Turner, who grew up in Cooroy, finishing high school in 1974 before studying at the University of Queensland and the University of Auckland, found himself for awhile as a member of the fourth estate founding his own country newspaper.

“I’ve always been interested in politics so I was always doing things for the student newspaper at the university I was at,” Dr Turner said.

“Eventually I learnt a bit about production in the old days of the paper and back in the mid-80s when I was between physics jobs and applying for jobs, I came across a small town that didn’t have a newspaper.

“So I created a weekly newspaper … the Kilcoy Sentinel.”

Ready to educate local physics students thanks to a former Noosa District High Dux.
Ready to educate local physics students thanks to a former Noosa District High Dux.

Dr Turner said he had the time of his life living to a deadline.

“Nothing matches the thrill of printing day and seeing it come off the presses.”

He said this a completely different mindset to teaching physics but the human element did not change when he went back to teaching.

“Instead of cranky customers or politicians, you’re dealing with cranky students or teenagers,” he said.

“Teenagers these days come in a wide range of forms and behaviours.”

Dr Turner said there has been a big change retraining himself from “my own ideas if what teenagers were like when I was young to what they are 30 years later”.

“So that’s a bit of shock to the system,” he said.

Dr Turner said his aim with his study guide is to make the information laid out relevant and to get them involved in the technological side of learning starting with Google searches or the popular online simulations.

“On the whole students who are interested in the subject find online simulations just as useful as doing the real pracs,” Mr Turner said.

He said in this tech world he finds most students are no longer accustomed to doing more practical tasks and he can fascinate a whole class of Year 8s for an half an hour by merely striking a match and explaining the process.

“They’re used to hands-on electronic equipment where you just touch and see what happens,” he said.

As well he finds “anything where you need to read the instructions first is a foreign country to them”.

Mr Turner said when he returned to physics teaching after his newspaper career, he followed the example of his Noosa District High mentor in physics teacher Mr Ashley.

“He had a very calm manner and he would give us the term reading list in advance and expect us to do a fair bit of pre-reading and be ready for class,” he said.

“I started doing exactly that and would you believe recently, in the last three or four years that technique has been given an official name - it’s called flip teaching.

“It’s saying to students, ‘I can cover the more difficult ideas in class and explain them to you if you’ve done the basics at home beforehand’,” Dr Turner said.

He had published about half-a-dozen physics research-papers 30 years ago, but more recently his writing had been confined to biography published on-line.

He said there was also the novelty of working remotely with a co-author on the Sunshine Coast Stephen Pinel, head of science at Unity College in Caloundra, the commissioning-editor on the Darling Downs, and the editing staff in Melbourne.

“The experience was good practice for the on-line teaching in Term 2 of this year,” Dr Turner said.


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