Highlights //

MWC teacher workshops focus on COVID-19

In 2020/21 the Centre adapted its teacher professional development programme to increase understanding around the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing on both MWC and national expertise to provide an in-depth training opportunity.

Building on the Centre’s highly successful biology teacher outreach, MWC took the opportunity to focus biology teacher workshops in 2020/21 on the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centre brought some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s foremost experts in virology, public health, mathematical modeling, genetics and immunology to seven locations across the North and South Islands. MWC Investigators gave talks alongside other prominent researchers from leading NZ universities and another Centre of Research Excellence - Te Pūnaha Matatini (TPM)  - to deliver a comprehensive training programme.

The first round of training days (held November 2020) proved popular with the teaching community, facilitating 350 attendees across all sessions. Teachers engaged in topics such as virus evolution and emergence, medical microbiology, and vaccine development and diagnostics. Top science communicators were on hand to explain the origins of the pandemic and the government’s response in the form of MWC Investigators Professor Michael Baker and Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, and TPM’s Professor Shaun Hendy. These researchers were recognized for their work around the pandemic in the 2020 Prime Minister’s Prizes1, including Puiaki Pūtaiao Matua a Te Primira Science Prize (Science Prize) and Te Puiaki Whakapā Pūtaiao (Science Communication Prize).

As the effects of the pandemic continued into 2021, teachers were left hungry for more information on COVID-19. Several workshop attendees returned to take part in the next professional development day in Queenstown in June 2021, with some individuals travelling from as far as Dargaville to attend. The session provided training for another 25 teachers and the programme built on earlier talks, deepening the teacher's COVID-19 knowledge by expanding on topics such as genomic tracing and presenting the new data on post COVID-19 condition, "Long-COVID".

Those attending were delighted with the depth and quality of the content citing the programme as an environment where they felt “stimulated and challenged by the material” and importantly, are “treated like scientists”. The knowledge gained was put to immediate use in schools with teachers reportedly using COVID-19 as “an example of relevant evolution in action” in year 13 lessons and a case study for year 11 students on the topic of Microbes.

The scheme’s success can be attributed to the fantastic people working behind the scenes including MWC Principal Investigator Prof Dave Grattan and Teacher Liaison Ms Rachel Heeney (Epsom Girls Grammar School) who manage the programme content and coordinate with schools across the country to find suitable spaces to meet with the teaching community. Through generous donations of time from MWC investigators and associated speakers, and space from local schools, the programme remains free to attend. Rachel explains the inherent value of the MWC training opportunities - “If you teach a teacher, we will share the knowledge and stories for years and years to come”. MWC is proud to offer NZ teachers these unique opportunities to upskill and enhance the teaching offering in schools.



Speakers and attendees at the MWC Teacher Professional Development day, Wakatipu High School. On the front row: MWC Investigators Prof Vernon Ward and Dr Anna Brooks (2nd and 3rd from left) and Dr Jemma Geoghegan (4th from right).Te Pūnaha Matatini Director Prof Shaun Hendy (3rd from right) and Dr Amanda Kvalsvig from the University of Otago, Wellington, (5th from right).



[1] https://www.royalsociety.org.nz/news/2020-prime-ministers-science-prizes-awarded/