Science for Schools
The Maurice Wilkins Centre is committed to supporting science education in New Zealand schools. High-quality science education not only encourages the next generation of researchers, it also helps all young New Zealanders to understand and value science and how new scientific developments are important in their everyday lives.
Maurice Wilkins Centre school outreach initiatives
Biology is a fast moving field and teachers need mechanisms to keep abreast of the latest developments if they are to successfully pass these messages along to their students. The Centre realised the mechanisms to achieve this were very limited in New Zealand and so has decided to focus on working directly to support high school biology teachers.
Sugar in Schools
The MWC Sugar in Schools programme is a real-world, hands-on experiment that students can do to measure their own uptake of fructose from their gut. It contributes to a larger study that aims to understand how New Zealand children vary in their ability to uptake frustose, where higher levels of fructose in the body may increase the risk of developing diabetes and obesity. The pilot study, conducted in 2017, was performed at 16 schools from Dunedin to Kaitaia and involved 410 school children.
Not only is this a unique educational opportunity in its own right, the MWC provides wrap-around educational material to support teachers an allow them to incorporate this into their teaching programme.
In addition to the MWC studies, Dr Ofa Dewes (MWC Associate Investigator) and colleagues at The Moko Foundation led by Mr Conor Watene O’Sullivan, conducted further studies using external funding in 2019. This increased participation of schools throughout Auckland and in rural communities, including Kura Kaupapa Māori, in Northland.
In 2020 and 2021, both Dr Dewes (funded by HRC) and The Moko Foundation (funded by MWC) have continued with the research. Despite the challenges cause by COVID-19 restrictions and home based schooling, these studies combined have collected data for another 544 students across Auckland, Wellington and the far north. As of June 2021, 54 schools around New Zealand had taken part in the study, testing over 2900 students.
For a highlight story on the Sugar in Schools initiative, see " 'Sugar in Schools' study launched nationwide" .
Science teacher professional development
The NCEA curriculum requires biology teachers to teach in a variety of new areas but specific professional development courses have not been available. The Maurice Wilkins Centre has used the expertise of its investigators to provide teachers with a series of science update courses tailored to be directly relevant to the new curriculum.
The material has been presented in a series of free teacher professional development days, beginning in Auckland in 2012 and to date 50 workshops have been held at 22 different venues from Kaitaia to Invercargill. These have attracted over 1800 registrations from teachers and when surveyed they said that the days were either “essential” or “very valuable”. All of the material is also freely available on our biology teacher resources page and 95% of teachers who attended said they plan to use parts of this directly in their classroom teaching.
MWC ran 6 workshops in 2022. In 2022, after two years of an adapted programme focussed around the COVID-19 pandemic, MWC resumed its original format with topics across the broad field of Biology: genetics and ecological research within a Te Ao Māori framework, circadian rhythms, rheumatic fever, thermoregulation, and Long Covid. As in previous years, the events were extremely popular with the teaching community with over 210 attendees from more than 110 schools across all sessions.
Biology teacher development scholarships
The Centre also sponsors scholarships for high-school biology teachers to attend the annual Queenstown Research Week (QRW). The aim is to give New Zealand teachers the opportunity to attend an international conference on contemporary biological research and network with colleagues and practicing biologists from around the world.