High school teacher takes on real world science
Golden Bay High School science teacher Paul Nield has traded his classroom for the laboratory where he's solving real world problems alongside scientists at Cawthron Institute, New Zealand's largest independent science organisation.
"It's great, I've been taken right out of my comfort zone – and that's what this whole experience is all about," Paul says.
Paul is based at Cawthron for the next six months as part of the new Science Teaching Leadership Programme which provides opportunities for teachers of science for year 1 -10 students to develop their leadership skills and enhance the teaching of science within school communities. The programme is administered by Royal Society of New Zealand and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
A deeper understanding
Paul is one of 35 primary and secondary teachers currently involved in the programme. Teachers spend two school terms undertaking leadership training, and working alongside scientists to gain a deeper understanding of New Zealand's overarching science curriculum strand called the Nature of Science.
"We're trying to enhance the teaching of science at schools and basically bring about some changes to make it more engaging and more like real life," he says.
"We want to inspire our students. We want them to have curious minds and not to turn it off when they get to school, because the world needs scientifically literate people and scientists to tackle the big science questions out there – from global warming and ocean acidification to plastics in the ocean."
Real world experience
Until now, Paul had very little practical work experience as a scientist.
"Like many science teachers, almost all of my science work has been in the classroom. Partnering with science organisations like Cawthron is so important to helping teachers like me connect the dots between what we teach in school and a science career, ensuring that what we teach is relevant and authentic."
While at Cawthron he'll be working with a range of scientists with expertise in the many different areas of food and water research that Cawthron specialises in, including microbiology, evolutionary genetics, toxicology, taxonomy, chemistry and molecular biology.
Focus on aquaculture
A key focus of his placement will be to learn as much as he can about the world-class seafood and marine farming research happening at Cawthron. Golden Bay High School has recently partnered with the Marine Farming Association to establish an aquaculture programme, and Mr Nield is keen to strengthen the school's science and industry links in this area.
"I really want to experience projects which support aquaculture in New Zealand. I'll be learning about genetic-based methods to identify toxins in shellfish, using highly-sensitive analytical instruments to screen aquaculture growing waters, looking at the bacterial content of water samples, counting marine worms in seabed samples... and more!"
Secrets to success
Paul's host at Cawthron, biologist Dr Jonathan Banks, says as well as hands-on research, he'll also get a chance to learn about arguably the most important part of being a scientist today – how to write an effective funding application.
"During his time here, he'll get to see and experience all stages of a research project – right from the grant applications and report writing, through to commercial application of the research by the client," Jonathan says.
"The intention is for Paul to go away knowing not only about our applied research, but also the reality of doing science in today's competitive climate and what it takes to be successful."
The new programme builds on the Teacher Fellowship Scheme administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand since 1994, which Cawthron also supported.
Cawthron Institute Community Development Manager, Jo Thompson, says the organisation is proud to be involved in the programme, which it sees as an extension of its existing community-focused activities.
"Our community development programme was set up in 2011 with the aim of building close links between our scientists and schools to help foster the next generation of New Zealand scientists. This new national initiative complements our established programme really well and we're really pleased to be part of it."
Cawthron also has strong links with Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT). NMIT has teaching facilities at Cawthron Aquaculture Park and several graduates of its aquaculture programme have gone on to work at Cawthron.
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