Pursuing ideas outside the traditional model

Melbourne Grammar School is a place where ideas are valued, individuality is admired, and deep thinking is encouraged, so it is no surprise that the Andrew Prentice Seminar Series has been so successful.

Established in 2017, the seminars provide an academic forum in which students and staff are able to impart their passion and knowledge about a chosen theme outside a typical classroom setting. Each term, a staff member and a student unite to present their insights about a topic within a shared area of personal interest. In most instances, the teacher also provides academic mentoring to their student partner.

For Year 10 student, Will Flintoft, and Mr Andrew Baylis, Director of Learning and Research, their common enthusiasm for physics made them natural co-presenters. Mr Baylis spoke about fields and force. Will spoke about his experience re-staging the Cavendish experiment.

“I’ve always been interested in physics, even from a young age,” explains Will. “Physics describes the world around me. As I move through my day, I’m always thinking about the physics behind what is happening around me. I love that it is so ubiquitous.”

“I’m intrigued by the idea of the gravitational constant, known as G. It pops up everywhere and I wanted to use the opportunity presented by the seminar to find out more,” says Will. “I started by reading about the history of G and the very early estimations of it through Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, first published in 1687, in which he proposes the Laws of Motion and the concept of G.”

Performed over 1797–1798, the Cavendish experiment measured the force of gravitational attraction between two masses, and this measurement enabled the calculation of the actual value of the gravitational constant, G. The second part of Will’s investigation involved reproducing this seminal work over a seven-week period.

“For a Year 10 student to have read deeply in this field, to be able to understand the content and then to extrapolate from that base to form cognitive links is very impressive,” says Mr Baylis. “Will then went on to translate that theoretical understanding into a practical activity and, by doing so, performed really ‘good’ science. Will is to be commended for his work.”

“The Andrew Prentice Seminar Series is an important component of the School’s learning programme,” adds Mr Baylis. “Not only do the Seminars provide validation for having interests and pursuing ideas outside of the traditional learning model, it also creates micro-teams of students and teachers in which the age and status differences fall away. This form of dialogue is of benefit to all participants.”

To date, seminars have been drawn from a wide variety of fields with presentations including:

  • The poetics of Hip Hop by Jack Fergus + On the Beat by Stephen Dessants, Head of English
  • Geo-political lessons from the Fourth Crusade by Danny Feng + The continuing legacy of the Great War by Tim Morris 

Behind the name

Dr Andrew Prentice (OM 1961) is an acclaimed mathematician recognised as one of the world’s foremost experts on the formation of the solar system.

Throughout his career Andrew Prentice has been renowned for making, what seemed to be at the time, outlandish claims within his area of expertise. He continues to do so. Yet, over time, many of his assertions have proved to be true.

“We chose to name the Seminar Series after Andrew Prentice because of his boundless enthusiasm for research and love of testing new ideas and theories. It is this approach, together with the collaborative model of an academic seminar, that aims to inspire current students and staff to follow Dr Prentice’s example,” says Seminar coordinator and Head of Academic Extension, Dr Martin Ball.

“It is a great honour that this seminar series has my name attached to it,” says Dr Prentice. “Having attended the first few talks, I am hugely impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and desire to step outside the comfort zone of accepted ideas and dogma, and to explore with open minds the world beyond for the advancement of human knowledge.”

Dr Prentice has maintained strong links with Melbourne Grammar School throughout his lifetime as an active Old Melburnian, and as a donor.