General news

Johnnie Fraser collecting samples for 'Mountains to Sea'
6 December 2016

A chance to hang out with scientists

Nelson College head of biology Johnnie Fraser hopes his students have enjoyed having him back in the classroom this term.

Fraser, a biology teacher at Nelson College, is half-way though the Science Teaching and Leadership Programme, one of New Zealand's most prestigious science teaching opportunities.

Funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand, Fraser spent the first two terms of this year working with scientists at Cawthron Institute. Fraser said that “a highlight of his time at Cawthron was working alongside accomplished scientists and participating in real science again”.

Now back at College after his six months at Cawthron, Fraser is putting his new ideas into practice. He has enjoyed “getting students involved in real-world applications and showing them how science impacts on so many aspects of their life. Science should be valued by every student. It is not something that's only done in a lab. Science is all around us”.

Listen to Johnnie Fraser talk about his experience at Cawthron

Fraser firmly believes that there needs to be a strong relationship between schools and research institutes to make sure this happens. After his time at Cawthron he says that the “scientists are totally up for this”.

One outcome is a project for his year 9 science students called ‘Mountains to Sea’. This is based on work done by Cawthron’s Coastal and Freshwater team, alongside Landcare Research and NIWA. The focus is on valuing our ecosystem for what it provides us and the environment. Students recently spent a day at Kaiteriteri beach and Motueka Estuary where they were scientists ‘for a day’ collecting data.

The students worked in groups with other enthusiasts including: Richard de Hamel from Otago University, Megan Wilson from Experiencing Marine ReservesCristina Armstrong from Cawthron Institute and Aneika Young, Kaiāwhina (Māori Cultural Advisor) for Cawthron Institute.

Aneika Young at Kaiteriteri beach with a group of students from Nelson College

Back in the class room the different groups will explain to each other their findings and discuss the different values these ecosystems provide.

Fraser says that he “firmly believes we need to get all students to engage in science so that they develop into active citizens. Our world is beset with complicated problems and to engage with these issues, we need a scientifically literate population”.

During 2016, 38 primary, intermediate and secondary teachers from throughout New Zealand began phase one of the Science Teaching Leadership Programme, which includes a placement at a research institution, leadership course and curriculum development on the Nature of Science. A further 47 teachers were involved in phase 2, which is to incorporate results of their learning into the curriculum. Participant teachers focus on developing skills and knowledge to enhance the quality of science teaching and learning in their schools.

Cristina Armstrong, Cawthron Foundation’s Community Educator, says that the programme offers “amazing professional development for teachers. Partnerships between the community and schools are important part of what we do and this is a way that we can get school students to do some real and relevant research with real scientists”.

Listen to Sarah Johns talk about her trip to Antarctica

This is the third year Cawthron Institute has had a teacher working alongside its scientists and Armstrong says that the feedback from all the teachers has been positive because “they do practical and hands-on science at the Institute, they are able to more confidently teach in the classroom.”

Shaun Bryant, a teacher at Central Takaka Primary School will be based at Cawthron Institute in 2017 as part of the Science Teaching Leadership Programme. Fraser says that it will be an incredible experience for Shaun Bryant.

“After ten years teaching, this has been an opportunity for me to upskill and reflect. The programme has changed my teaching practice for the better, and it has increased my credibility amongst my students.”

For more information
Listen to interviews on RadioNZ
Read about the Science Teaching Leadership Programme