Every Student Podcast: Lloyd Godson
Teacher, scientist and aquanaut Lloyd Godson joins Mark Scott on the podcast to talk world records, inspiring students and changing careers.
Teacher, scientist and aquanaut Lloyd Godson joins Mark Scott on the podcast to talk world records, inspiring students and changing careers.
Hi, I’m Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, and welcome to Every Student, the podcast where I get to introduce you to some of our great leaders in education. Today my guest is Lloyd Godson, he is a science and marine studies teacher from Hastings Secondary College in Port Macquarie. He is a really interesting career changer who is now in his second year in the classroom. Before he got to the classroom Lloyd spent a month living underwater, propelled himself through the Greek Islands in a human-powered submarine and holds the Guinness World Record for the most electricity generated by peddling underwater – not your average teacher.
Thank you Mark.
You grew up in landlocked Albury. I remember Albury; you have got a river, you have got the Hume Weir but it hardly seems to be a setting for someone who is fascinated by the water. How did all this interest come about?
For me going to the sea was a once a year thing and something I looked forward to every year. I was fascinated by it when we got to go. In my Year 1 book in primary school I wrote that I wanted to be a marine scientist, it is just fascinating to me. My dad used to drive me to school, into Albury, in high school and that was when I first got exposed to scuba diving. There was a dive school in town, it was the first commercial dive school in Australia, lots of really fascinating technology and bits and pieces of gear that I started to see and that just really sparked my interest in exploring the underwater world.
From your school days on you became an adventurer. If you look at what you were doing before you became a teacher in the classroom there are these really interesting adventures. Tell us about that adventuring spirit that you had and how those projects that you have worked on have really resonated with your interest in environmentalism.
I grew up in a very small town called Howlong just outside of Albury, a population of less than a thousand and basically growing up my parents let us explore, we came home for lunch and dinner but I spent a lot of time with my brother and sister just exploring our town, the river that you mentioned before. Then going onto high school I started to get a lot into hiking and going up into the Victorian Alps on my own and camping. Following university, I got really into all the adventurers with Australian Geographic Society which was my inspiration.
Then I wanted to use adventures to inspire students – that is where it eventually led. I wanted to engage kids with whacky out of the box thinking adventures around the world that would be the drawcard. Draw them into what I was doing and then use the science behind the adventure to educate them.
Do something that sounds really crazy and then use the interest that it generates to engage people and the substance of the science. One of those projects was the “Wildest Adventure” competition run by the Australian Geographic magazine. Tell us about your project that came on the back of that.
Following university, I went down to Antarctica to do a Graduate Diploma in Antarctic Science and when I was down there I was thinking about how I could connect children in the classroom with scientists in these remote locations doing amazing work in pretty far out areas. I had been inspired by the work of Doctor Ballard who found the Titanic – he had set up something similar doing remote webcasting from his research into the classroom, getting kids to drive robots remotely. When I got back to Australia my friend sent me the link to this competition run by Australian Geographic called ‘Live your dream wildest adventure’. They were looking for new ideas for their magazine something a bit different than the typical adventure. I dreamt up this self-sufficient underwater habitat which I wanted to create, like an underwater classroom to educate kids from across the country and the world if they were interested in how might we live underwater in a self-sufficient manner. That is how the bio sub-project was born.
What was the nature of that? What did you invent?
Basically the idea was to create a habitat that was not reliant on the surface as much as possible, to see if someone could live underwater self-sufficiently, explore the underwater world, looking at all the technology that they would need and that would enable them to do that. What I did was I started connecting with schools and also students who were being homeschooled out in the middle of Australia to follow along that whole journey. Not just once I had finished the project and then connect with me when I was underwater it was about I wanted to share with them my successes, my failures, the design process, the redesign process, the build of the habitat and then eventually they got to share the underwater part with me.
How long were you finally self-sufficiently underwater for?
Twelve days. My intention was to survive for two weeks underwater.
Twelve days is pretty good.
I was pretty happy with that. What happened was that my wife was on the surface and she was looking after me and I was connected to a scientist in America who was monitoring my health remotely. She was getting results live from underwater and then talking with my wife and then finally they said ‘No, you need to come out’.
They pulled the plug on you.
I wasn’t resisting and it was starting to take its toll on me. I was pretty happy with twelve days. I had a life support system underwater that was built by students in America. It was using microalgae to produce oxygen and scrub my CO2, it was pretty basic. It was a pretty big test, it was a big science experiment, it went pretty well and it lead to other things.
A living science experiment with you as the key person. You did two other experiments with the bio sub?
Yes, this was a leap of faith doing the bio sub-project. I had no experience in doing anything like this in the past. Australian Geographic invested $50,000 in the project, they thought it was a worthwhile story, a worthwhile adventure to invest in. The first thing that I did was went to America and chatted to some astronauts and researchers who were studying astronauts in space to get some advice and help on how to build this thing and how to survive, not only survive but how to get the most out of the experiment. Once it finished I decided to start working on my second version of the project and took all the things that I had learnt from the first one and then adapted that for my second one.
An adventurous spirit willing, to put yourself at the frontline of it all and I want to come back and look back on those experiences and how you draw on those experiences in the classroom today. In a sense even though there was a lot of education involved in these projects that you ran one of the things that you then went to do was to start your own little school up at Port Macquarie, the Nature School, tell us about that.
I just realised the value of my childhood growing up in a small town where I was allowed to go off and take risks in the bush every day and what that did for my confidence and how much I learnt about nature and how the planet works from spending so much time outdoors with my brother and sister. I really wanted my children to have that kind of way of growing up as well, this free-range kind of lifestyle.
I had spoken to a lot of other parents who were really concerned about their children spending so much time on screens, not just at school but outside of school so I decided to create a place where parents could send their children where there would be no-screens or no-tech time and it was just all about reconnecting with nature. I met two other individuals in Port Macquarie who were feeling the same way, we formed an Australian charity called the Nature School and we ran a pilot program in Port Macquarie. Initially, it was for children aged three to six to come and experience this and wanted to see what they thought about it. It has grown now into an independent primary school in Port Macquarie up to Year 3 currently.
You have been an explorer and an adventurer, you have been involved in starting your own school and then you make the call that you want to become a secondary school teacher, a high school teacher. How did you go about transitioning to do that?
To be honest I never wanted to be a teacher. When I finished university it was very common for people to either if you did Marine Science you either went on to do your PhD or a Masters in Marine Science or you might have been a consultant, a junior consultant, or you were a teacher. I didn’t really have any interest in any of those things. I always felt like I wanted to do something really creative and through those projects that I was doing I was exposed to some really amazing teachers who inspired me eventually that ‘hey, maybe this teaching thing wouldn’t be so bad’ and I would be able to pass on my passion and enthusiasm to a lot more children on a daily basis. One of those teachers was from the States – as I mentioned before I had some students build me a life support system for my underwater habitat. I posed the question I said, “I saw your students are working on an algae bioreactor in your classroom would you like to design and build me a life support system for an underwater habitat”. He thought I was on crack.
An unusual request you don’t get that request from Australia all the time.
He put it to his students “hey I have got this pretty unusual request from an Australian guy would you guys like to be involved?”
They were really keen. It was an Advanced Biology class in high school over there.
I am glad they were advanced given what was at stake.
Exactly, 15 and 16 year olds, putting my life in their hands, and they came up with this bio-coil for my underwater habitat. They raised about $30,000 US on their own in their community, flew over to Australia, built my bio-coil, installed it in my underwater habitat and I saw the way this teacher worked with his students. That was the first time I really started to think ‘ok, teaching doesn’t have to be this thing where you stand up the front and you are telling students what to do and how things are.’ He stood back and he had these six amazing students, they each brought something to the team, they weren’t all academic. There was an artistic student there who did all the design work for their drawings and for the bio-coil. There was a spokesperson someone who really liked engaging with the community and talking about their project. Then you had a couple of engineers in the team who did a lot of the building and designing.
I saw the teacher he took back step and let these kids work. He stepped in when he needed to, he guided them, he mentored them. They had a very special relationship – I saw the way that they respected each other and I was really impressed with the way he worked. As it turned out he had won a presidential teacher’s award in the States. He was a special teacher. Like me now he had entered teaching late in his life, he was working in forestry for the first 20 or 30 years and then he decided people had told him that you have got a pretty special connection with children why don’t you become a teacher. He eventually did and he made a huge impact.
He had a huge influence on my decision to take what I had done previously and incorporate that into the classroom and I have tried to mimic his teaching style and give students opportunities and allow them to work as teams and be there to guide them.
There is a real focus in your work around design thinking, how do the principles of design thinking roll out in your classrooms?
This is my second year of teaching. Last year in my first year of teaching I heard a lot of kids complaining about things at the school and I kept telling them “rather than complain and bag things out or talk about how crap things are, I want you to start coming up with solutions”.
In my lunchtimes, I started running a group for this so that they would come up with a problem and then identify potential solutions and work on it. I had one group in particular from Year 7 who really grabbed this opportunity and ran with it. They wanted to improve the well-being in our school and they came up with a therapy dog program. They designed this therapy dog program, they had meetings with the principal and the executive at the school. They ended up running a pilot program at the school bringing in a volunteer and a therapy dog to help out with student well-being. Their project was selected to represent Australia in Taiwan. I took two students over to Taiwan in November and they presented their design thinking project to an audience of 4,000 people in Taipei. That was a really empowering experience for the children but also for me, as a teacher, to see what was possible when you give these kids the opportunity to work in a small group like that and take on a problem that means a lot to the students.
I have tried to incorporate into my classroom as much as possible. In reality, I do a lot of that work with students in my lunchtime or after school trying to focus on the environment now. We are part of the Westport Environment and Sustainability Team. We have got some students working on some really fascinating projects there.
You make a big thing about trying to get your students outdoors, out into nature, out in the water, what do you see as the real benefits of real-world learning and engaging students in that way?
I see that students behave completely differently when they are out in the world talking to members of the community or doing hands-on projects that have real value. Kids that might give you a hard time in the classroom you can have amazing discussions with them out in the field and you form completely different relationships with students when you are doing something like that.
I try my best in my daily teaching to get students out and to experience all the things that Port Macquarie has to offer. Connecting them with people in the community, engineers, marine scientists or other people that can come in and share their story and give relevance to what we are doing in the classroom.
You have come into teaching mid-career with such an interesting background. It sounds like the approach that you are taking to some of these teaching and learning challenges as a little different what has been the reaction to your approach from other teachers on the staff at the school?
I would say that most of the staff at my school really appreciate the energy and the enthusiasm that I bring, not only for the science subject material but just in general for my passion for educating kids and coming up with creative ways of doing things around the place. The science faculty welcomed me with open arms, my head teacher said to me from day one: “you know you are a creative person and you do things differently I want you to teach the way that you want to teach, I want you to do things differently”. She said: “things that we do here don’t necessarily work for all kids we want you to bring that something special and try new things. Here is your program throw it out if you want and as long as you teach those outcomes we don’t care how you do it but we want you to really engage those kids with what makes you different”.
I have tried to do that as much as possible and really share my enthusiasm and passion and experience from the past to engage them.
Do you think you are a better teacher because you didn’t start until fifteen or twenty years after you left university?
I think so. If I had of been a teacher straight out of university I just wouldn’t have all these world experiences to share with the kids and I wouldn’t have the confidence. I have seen other new teachers in schools and I see that sometimes they don’t have that confidence in front of children to deliver material in an engaging way. I just feel it doesn’t intimidate me. I feel at ease with going in front of a classroom, talking to kids because I have spoken to so many kids and other groups from all around the world. I am excited to do what I do. I come in with a lot of energy. The kids respond to that. My classroom is a happy place and they know that even if I am having a bad day that I will go in there and I will give it 120% and I will put on a smile, I will dance around, I sing. I am pretty dynamic in front of the kids and most of the kids will appreciate that and that I will come in and give it everything. I have got so many stories that if we are doing a bit of content I can usually find a story, a really interesting story that I can connect it to and show some pictures or whatever.
What has been the surprise? What weren’t you expecting about a teaching career that has been a reality that you have had to engage with?
There are still surprises coming up every day. Halfway through my second year there is a whole lot of things that I am still learning about teaching, I have still got a lot to learn. It is the daily rigour of you know you have got your classes but then you have got all the things that happen outside of those classes; students that need a little bit of additional care or attention, all the documentation that you need to do, reporting. It is a pretty stressful job and I see that around the school that there are a lot of stressed teachers in particular at certain times of the year. For me it is staying positive, trying to be that happy person not only to other staff but to the students at the same time trying to manage your workload and all those things that I mentioned. Trying to keep on top of all that while at the same time looking for opportunities for students. I spend a lot of my spare time looking and creating opportunities for students and in particular the students at our school which it is a bit of a low SES school I try to find opportunities and funding so that I can give them all an opportunity to attend excursions, not just the ones that have the money I want all the kids to be able to go if they have an interest or passion in something.
You recently took a group of students to Lady Elliott Island on the Great Barrier Reef what was that work involving?
I teach marine studies at my school and I really wanted the kids to fall in love with the Great Barrier Reef to experience it firsthand. It can be expensive getting kids to the Great Barrier Reef in particular where I took them. I sourced some funding from Inspiring Australia, I got $18,000 to take 18 children on this excursion so basically they were all given $1,000 scholarship to come along. They paid about $400, they spent four nights on the Great Barrier Reef at an eco-resort on Lady Elliott Island. A few of my students had never crossed the border before into Queensland, I had a few who had never put on a mask before or snorkel, most of them had never been to the Reef or to an island or on an aeroplane, all of those things. There were so many new experiences for them before they even got there.
On the island, I took one of my students scuba diving, which was pretty magical. We got down the anchor line of the boat and the first thing we saw was three bottle-nose dolphins cruise straight past us, we could hear the whale singing underwater. It blew her away, it was an amazing experience. There was so many of those for all of the students they all had so many new experiences. They saw what it took to run an eco-resort, the sustainability side of things, all these new careers. I was advised by another private school who had taken their students to the same island the year before that four nights would be way too many and that the kids would get bored. All of these kids every single one of them, four days later, were like: "we don’t want to go home, we want to go back." They just did not want to leave that place. Now I have got some of those students who are wanting to be marine scientists or they want to go back. The resort was saying “why don’t you come back after school and work up here and get some experience in different fields”.
That was really interesting for me to see how these kids responded differently to that same experience – they didn’t want it to end.
When we think about your career and all the interesting things that you did before you became a teacher I suspect given the increase in enrolment numbers that we are seeing in Australian schools, particularly here in New South Wales, we are going to need to do more recruiting of teachers and actually target mid-career people more to come into teaching. I think our big entry has always been for those straight after graduating university in their early twenties but the prospect and our pitch to people in the mid-thirties and mid-forties that have done other interesting things, the value and the appeal of the teaching career that is a message that we need to get.
What is your message to them? If we put you on posters to promote a mid-career transition to teaching what is your message going to be?
I think it will something along the lines of the difference you can make to students lives. It is hard work. I have got a couple of students in mind in particular who they were having a really tough time of things and didn’t seem like they were really appreciating you at the time but a year on I have seen the way that my presence at the school has transformed their lives. This is something really valuable for me and would be really valuable for other people considering a career change would be to know how valuable your input can be on those children’s lives and how much impact you can have.
We are going to prepare the posters now. It is a great story, Lloyd. Lloyd Godson, thanks so much for being our guest on Every Student today. This podcast is going to mean a lot of people are going to contact you to try and appreciate a little bit more about the work that you are doing up at Port Macquarie and to think through how the lessons that you can draw from your experience as a teacher can impact other classrooms across the state as well.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Every Student. Never miss an episode by subscribing on your podcast platform of choice or by heading to our website at education.nsw.gov.au/every-student-podcast or if you know someone who is a remarkable innovative educator who we could all learn from you can get in touch with us via Twitter (@NSWEducation), on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again and I’ll catch you next time.
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