The cybersecurity teacher and Assistant Director of Mathematics at John Curtin College of the Arts in Fremantle received the award for inspiring students with diverse, creative backgrounds, by applying mathematics to real-world problems and introducing them to future career opportunities in science.

Research suggests that teachers working in cross curricular STEAM settings, often see their students making connections between concepts and solving problems in new and exciting ways, using inquiry, problem based learning etc – so for Buckley teaching in her arts-focussed setting could be described as a perfect fit.

“Oh absolutely. It’s my students who got me to where I am in my career, because I have to be creative,” she says.

“I have to be creative to cater to them. And that’s what education is about, isn’t it?

“It’s the joy of being a teacher. We’re creative and we look at the students we have in front of us, and it changes year by year.”

Amongst a host of forward-thinking initiatives Buckley has introduced to her school, and state, is a Maths Talent Quest, which encourages students to think creatively about mathematical problems.

“We use initiatives like the Maths Talent Quest to engage students in concepts such as mathematical and statistical modelling, and applying it to something they’re passionate about, like ballet or textiles,” she explains.

“When students apply mathematics to real world problems that are of interest to them, the results are just amazing.”

“Sometimes you have a class full of football boys, other times I have classical ballet dancers. I need to be flexible and I am, and that’s such a good thing.”

Buckley says her principal, Travis Vladitch has set up a vision at the school that centres on broad ways of thinking.

“We’re in a technological world, things are changing, students leaving school are changing careers every seven years,” she says.

“So if you have the capacity to think statistically, mathematically, artistically – that is something we really value highly.

“… we’re not siloed at our school - it’s not ‘I’m a math person’, ‘I’m a science person’, ‘I’m a drama person’ - and it’s that type of closed mindset that stops people being the amazing people they can be.”

A strong advocate for women in technology, Buckley is a coordinator of the Perth node of the Girls’ Programming Network and a member of the Australian Women Security Network and Women in Technology Western Australia.

Vladich says Buckley goes to extraordinary lengths to interest and instruct her students in maths and also taps into community concerns and resources to ensure that the maths she is teaching is meaningful to her students.

Examples include a project on sustainable travel for Year 8 students, to analyse transport methods and compare them to air pollution data collected by the City of Perth, and a project for Year 9 students to explore science using Indigenous art.

But the passionate educator’s influence doesn’t stop at her Fremantle school’s gates, she loves impacting teachers and students well beyond her corner of the world.

“She’s influenced STEM thinking and concepts for teachers and students not only throughout Western Australia, but also with national projects and initiatives,” Vladitch says, proudly.

A strong advocate for women in technology, Buckley is a coordinator of the Perth node of the Girls’ Programming Network and is a member of the Australian Women Security Network and Women in Technology Western Australia.

Cyber security education has never been more important, and with this in mind she took time in 2019 to gain a Cert IV in Cyber Security and has subsequently established an accredited cybersecurity course at her school to educate her students about ways to make themselves and others around them more safe and secure in an online environment.

“We were doing things like code breaking and capture the flag and fun things like the Infomatics Olympiad during lunchtimes and after school in computer club…” she explains.

“I was working hard, but I wanted to forge all of that into a real lesson, into my classes.

“I thought ‘why can’t the fun stuff be happening in the classroom – and so I created a cyber security class.

Buckley says it's incredibly important to learn about being cyber safe from a young age, but also to show students the diverse careers that are possible in the industry.

“Embracing this diversity will help overcome the challenges that are ahead and the problems we need to solve in this area,” she says.

One of Buckley’s favourite initiatives is her Maths Book Club, which she describes as the best professional development in which she's been involved in her 25 years of teaching.

A lifelong avid reader, back in 2018 she and a group of colleagues happened to mention in passing that all of them loved the then newly released book Woo’s Wonderful World Of Maths by Australia’s Local Hero Award recipient that year, Eddie Woo.

“Having loved Eddie’s book, we agreed that there are so many great maths books out there, so decided to start a book club!” she says.

“And we’ve just read book after book.

“Through the books I draw from people who’ve done their PhD and all the amazing work they do as mathematicians, and then communicate it to young people, to my 12-year-olds, my 16-year-olds, depending on who I’ve got in front of me.”

Winning such a prestigious award has been humbling for the West Australian.

“To receive the secondary schools prize is such an honour,” she says.

“It really validates the work we’ve been doing to put mathematics on the map.”