Twelve teachers about to walk the talk for science learning

Twelve teachers from schools around New Zealand are heading back into the classroom as confident leaders of science within their school community.

In December they completed phase one of the Science Teaching Leadership Programme, where they worked alongside scientists to gain a deeper understanding of New Zealand’s overarching science curriculum strand, called the Nature of Science, as well as undertaking leadership training.

Now these teachers are returning to school to commence phase two of the programme that involves working with students, staff and their local community to enhance the quality of science teaching and learning.

An integral part of being selected on to the Science Teaching Leadership Programme is that schools or science departments and their nominated teacher commit to science being a major professional learning focus where the quality of science teaching and learning is significantly enhanced.

Minister of Science and Innovation, Hon Steven Joyce launched the programme early last year, which supports the government’s strategic direction for science in society, as outlined in the document A Nation of Curious Minds – He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara. The programme is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Glendowie, Auckland

ute (Mobile)A Churchill Park School teacher, Catherine Shipton, now has a good understanding of what an ecologist is.  

Catherine, who is a participant of the Science Teaching Leadership Programme, has just spent six months being hosted by Wildlands Consultants Ltd (Auckland) where she has worked alongside several scientists researching the mudfish population in Northland. Mudfish are a good indication of water quality.

“One of the many things I learnt is to be prepared for the unexpected and always be prepared for change, as this has a habit of opening up new opportunities. It is also important to question and to share information and observations with other scientists,” she says.

Catherine has had the opportunity to look at work being done by scientists with “a different set of eyes”. She has really appreciated this chance and has been impressed by the scientists’ passion and integrity.

Catherine is very excited to go back to school to share what she has learnt with her students and colleagues.

Contact: Churchill Park School, 09 575 8156

Albany, Auckland

Logan monitoring Final pic (Mobile)Albany Junior High School teacher Logan Coleman has just completed a six-month stint at Massey University where he gained a much better insight into the science curriculum. Logan admitted that he had very limited knowledge of the ‘Nature of Science’ when he was first selected for the Science Teaching Leadership Programme, but after spending six months at Tawharanui Regional Park immersed in observing, recording and listening to bird calls such as the tūī and takahē and identifying bird nests, he feels he has come a long way.

“I have learnt many skills such as the ‘power of observation’, collaborating with other scientists, networking and having to solve problems which are all important aspects of the Nature of Science,” he said.  

“I now have a curiosity and the skills to learn about the scientific world and cannot wait to share the journey with my students and my school.” 

Contact: Albany Junior High School, 09 415 5473


Su @ work in the Wet Lab (Mobile)Physics was not an area that Su Mukund was particularly familiar with before being selected for the Science Teaching Leadership Programme.  However, after spending the last two terms in 2015 being hosted by the Photon Factory at the University of Auckland she doesn’t feel that physics is “quite so scary any more”.

“I have learnt heaps about lasers – a machine that contains millions of atoms (the tiny particles from which all things are made). When the machine excites these atoms they pump out billions of photons, producing light,” she says excitedly.

“It has been a real privilege to work with so many scientists who are so highly specialised but who realise the importance of working as a team.  Their passion for what they do has been infectious, and their encouragement and support of me during my placement at the Photon Factory has been phenomenal. I am really looking forward to using those skills I have learnt back to the classroom at Papatoetoe High School.”

Contact: Papatoetoe High School, 09 278 4086


Richard profile (Mobile)Tauranga Girls’ College teacher Richard Hendra completed the last two terms in 2015 working alongside scientists at Plant and Food Research, Te Puke learning more about what scientists do.   “I had an expectation of working on just one project but in reality I worked on lots of different things, including learning about a threat to potato crops that can drastically reduce yield called ‘Zebra Chip Disease’. It also causes chips to go a dark stripy colour when fried,” he said.  

During Richard’s time at Plant and Food he has also researched whether water availability and temperature have an effect on the flowering of avocado plants.  He learnt that the avocado flowers have both functional male and female organs. “I spent a lot of time tagging flowers and the intricate task of collecting ovaries from flowers.”

In addition to learning much more about plant physiology, Richard also now has a much better idea of just what a scientist does.   “A day in the life of a scientist is very varied and involves many different skills. Scientists are innovative, creative and they need to solve problems while collaborating with many other scientists on a day-to-day basis.  On top of that, scientists have to write reports and also chase funding for their research,” he says. 

He is looking forward to getting back to his school and students and putting what he has learnt into action.

Contact: Tauranga Girls’ College, 07 578 8114


Brigit final pic (Mobile)“Unlocking the mystery of science” is how Brigitta Nieuwboer from St Mary’s Catholic School, Rotorua describes her time on the Science Teaching Leadership Programme.

For the last six months Brigitta has been hosted by the Eastern Region Fish and Game where she has been learning about how much science takes place at the trout breeding hatchery.  “I have learnt about the processes of the trout breeding programme where I have been very hands-on counting and transferring eggs and clipping fins so that trout can be easily identified,” Brigitta said.  

Brigitta has also spent a lot of time working alongside scientists who are researching the mallard duck and investigating why the breed is declining.  This has involved collecting lots of data on the ducks and then analysing the data. 

“I have learnt so much from the people at Fish and Game and I know that this is going to help me to lead and improve science teaching at St Mary’s,” she says.

Contact: St Mary’s Catholic School, 07 348 1701

Other teachers who have finished phase one of the Science Teaching Leadership Programme and are heading back to the classroom are:  

  • Theresa Gracie, Dargaville High School (09 439 7229), has been hosted by Massey University, Albany. She has been learning about ‘phages’, which are viruses that target bacteria.
  • Joanne Macown, Aquinas College (07 543 2400), Tauranga was hosted by Plant and Food Research, Te Puke and has been working alongside the genetics, breeding and genomics team, learning about breeding new kiwifruit cultivars which are resistant to Psa.
  • Lisa Pellowe, Taupo School (07 378 4389), has been hosted by the Department of Conservation in Taupo and spent six months learning about New Zealand’s rare whio duck and its habitats.
  • Paul Billing, John Paul College (07 347 8795), has been hosted by GNS Science Whakarewarewa and spent time monitoring the cycle of the world-famous Pohutu geyser and being involved in a Rotorua air-quality sampling project.
  • Karen Parker, Arthur Street School (03 477 6524), Dunedin was hosted by the Department of Geology at the University of Otago and learned about rock core samples and geological processes.
  • Mark Stephens, Broadgreen Intermediate (03 547 7131), Nelson has been hosted by Brook Waimarama Sanctuary Trust  and has been gathering baseline data of species diversity, distribution and abundance before the pest control fence is put in.
  • Greta Dromgool, Berkley Normal Middle School (07 856 6537), was hosted by Plant and Food Research, Hamilton and worked alongside the apiculture and pollination team studying honey bees and bumble bees.

Learn more about the Science Teaching Leadership Programme