Meet Annie Termaat, REDI PhD candidate

Annie Termaat’s first attempt at a PhD was cut short by undiagnosed twins. She spent the next 40 years teaching science in Canberra and at international schools around the world. Now she is rebooting her PhD journey to satisfy a lifelong curiosity about how young people learn to think independently.

Here Annie talks about how she got back on the PhD track after 40 years and what she hopes to achieve with her research.

Describe your PhD project and why you chose this topic.

My PhD project, “Meaning in the middle years: how metacognition in curricula is translated in pedagogy and student perceptions”, is seeking to find relationships between curriculums, what teachers do in their classrooms, and how students reflect on their learning. The patterns that are revealed in the data will necessarily be inductive, and involve a skewed sample, because every human participant is self-selected. I am humbled by the generosity of the teachers who are opening their classrooms to me. Already, the first few audio recordings are confirming the pedagogical genres of different subjects.

I am a great fan of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, particularly its Middle Years Programme (MYP), which embeds metacognitive strategies at many levels. The organisation commissions extensive education research ( ). During the Norwegian summer of 2021, while searching for a flight home to Australia, I was intrigued by ‘Making the abstract explicit: the role of metacognition in teaching and learning’. There are many similar reports, but this one inspired the tentative questions that shaped my current project.

What is your background, what challenges have you faced to get to this point?

Teaching science in high schools was my career ‘Plan B’ 40 years ago when an earlier attempt at a PhD was interrupted when my pregnancy resulted in undiagnosed twins. Writing up the research results as an MSc and being sleep deprived for a few years was definitely challenging.

I came to love teaching. I enjoyed managing my students’ hands-on classroom investigations, organising excursions and state level Science Fairs, and of course the camaraderie of colleagues in schools and professional associations. Teaching is valued and respected in exotic locations, so I have been privileged to have been able to live like a local in Turkey, Malaysia and Norway.

I became engaged in my current studies through personal interest, the culmination of a lifelong curiosity about how young people learn to think independently, and what is most valuable in education. I am a bit of a maverick myself, and believe it is very important for teachers to have the agency to experiment with their personal approaches to find what works best for them in their subject. This is very different from my previous graduate research experience in plant physiology, where my supervisors guided the questions. But, looking back, I learned from that experience too.

Why did you decide to do your PhD at Deakin?

I met Professor Russell Tytler while I was a member of the writing team that produced the first Australian Curriculum during 2009-2010, and Drs Vaughn Prain and Valerie Lovejoy at the 2017 Australian Science Teachers Association STEAM Conference in Hobart. Their ideas about ‘re-imagining science education’ and ‘interdisciplinary approaches’ resonated with me, placing Deakin University on my radar.

But when I investigated the possibility of starting a PhD at Deakin, I discovered that my previous qualifications were no longer recognised. I was advised to requalify by enrolling in a quick, online, part-time Graduate Diploma of Education Research. Once again, taking this Plan B proved to be extremely fortunate. Not only did the Grad Dip provide me with modern library research methods (I had used library cards last time), but it also introduced me to Dr George Aranda, who provided feedback on how to write like an education researcher. Being engaged with essays and research data made staying indoors during the Covid-19 pandemic a pleasure!

What has been your experience with your supervisors?

I introduced myself to Professor Julianne Moss after reading some of her current publications on the Deakin University website while in quarantine in Adelaide in September 2021. She immediately responded, and recommended Dr Kerri Garrard as my associate supervisor. I feel very fortunate to have them both: they are open-minded, encouraging, humorous, widely read, and particular in their advice and recommendations. I trust them completely.

When dealing with supervisors, I would say, go with your gut feelings.

What are you hoping to achieve with your PhD research?

I am too old to imagine that one person can make much difference to systems that are buffered because of their complexity. In life, people quite often go through periods when they cannot give something as demanding as teaching their all. Family responsibilities, illness, or perhaps economic pressures sometimes prevent them from being the truly amazing imaginative and reflexive worker they want to be. The best you can hope for is to influence someone with your ideas and encourage them to experiment a little.

Academic research findings may have influence but to truly make a difference to learning, your work must encourage change within classrooms. With this in mind, I am connecting with individuals who will help take my interests further, or in different directions. My qualification will give me credibility. Life is long. You never know how these networks are going to develop.

See Annie’s latest publications here:

  1. How can small secondary schools support the implementation of interdisciplinary units?
  2. What matters in interdisciplinary unit design – messages from small secondary schools
News 10 October 2023