The University of Newcastle, Australia

Working toward a better outcome for kids

Dr Adam Lloyd is using his diverse background in engineering, maths teaching, and physical activity and nutrition research to investigate education outcomes for children and improve equity and excellence in education.

A member of the University of Newcastle’s (UON) Teachers and Teaching Research Centre, Adam is currently working on several projects in education. These include improving student engagement and outcomes in mathematics; evaluating a disability awareness program; higher education pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; teacher professional development; and the roles of parents and teachers in student aspirations.

A former engineer at BHP’s Newcastle Steelworks, Adam set off to teach snowboarding in the US after the Steelworks closed in 1999. It was here he realised he wanted to be a teacher.

“I was in Vail, Colorado snowboarding with a group of students and I had this light bulb moment of – I really enjoy this interaction with kids. I want to be a teacher,” he recalls.

After completing a diploma of education, Adam worked as a teacher at Scotch College Melbourne and also began his Master of Education at The University of Melbourne.

“At Scotch, I taught maths and science and was heavily involved in co-curricular activities. I recall in my third year being given a class of students who were underperforming and had been for some time. Despite the resources, amazing facilities and available support they were still not achieving. These were students who had never really tasted any sort of success in the standard maths classroom,” Adam said.

“That particular class at Scotch challenged me to really think about my approach to teaching, and also to try and better understand the different influences that affect student outcomes.”

After his tenure at Scotch, Adam spent time teaching in the UK, and working in the corporate sector before embarking on his PhD with Professors Philip Morgan, David Lubans and Ron Plotnikoff from UON’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition.

“My PhD was part of the Healthy Dads Healthy Kids program and focused on the impact of the program on fathers’ parenting practices and subsequently their kids’ lifestyle behaviours. I was really interested in what goes on in the home environment and how that impacts on kids,” he explained.

As a member of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre under the guidance of Professor Jenny Gore, Adam has worked on several projects including projects relating to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, quality teaching, program evaluation, and two significant Australian Government Department of Education and Training Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) funded projects, which were undertaken during 2016.

The first HEPPP project titled ‘Unlocking Capacity and Empowering Choices: Indigenous Students’ Aspirations for Higher Education’ aimed to shape targeted university outreach initiatives that resonate with and build on the ways in which Indigenous students talk about what interests them when thinking about their educational and occupational futures.

This project built on a preliminary study from 2015 funded by UON’s Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education where a team of researchers (including Adam) was able to explore data containing over 10,000 surveys to show the aspirations of Indigenous students are just as diverse as non-Indigenous students.

“Indigenous students are aspiring to similar careers as non-Indigenous students, but when you look at how many are actually going on to university something changes. These students aren’t lacking aspirations – it’s other factors keeping them back from higher education.”

A second HEPPP project titled ‘Guiding Futures: The role of teachers in the formation of students' aspirations for higher education’. The aim of this project was to investigate the impact of teachers on students’ aspirations for higher education.

Many studies have addressed factors impacting on the under-representation of students from low SES and other disadvantaged backgrounds in universities in general, and in high status universities and degrees more specifically. However, the role of teachers in shaping and supporting students’ intentions to pursue university education has largely been overlooked.

This project provides insight into the explicit and implicit messages students glean from their teachers about their aspirations for higher education and ways of getting there.

“Our analysis suggests many students don’t really understand the differences between TAFE and University and/or don’t really understand what university is about. How do students aspire to something if they don’t really understand what it is?”