Highlights //

Scientists and teachers in unique partnership (2012)

Science teachers from Auckland and Northland leapt at the opportunity for an intensive update on the latest in biomedical science, at a unique Maurice Wilkins Centre event in 2012.

Scientists and teachers in a unique partnership (2012)“I was so inspired that I want to go back to university, it was that good,” says Julie Harrison, Senior Biology Teacher at Kerikeri High School, explaining how important, and challenging, it is for science teachers to keep pace with rapid advances in their field. She says the event was “fantastic, brilliantly organised, and very innovative,” as well as a rare networking opportunity for rural teachers like her.

The inaugural NCEA Level 3 Content Day, at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, was initiated and organised by Rachel Heeney, Head of Biology at Epsom Girls Grammar School, and Maurice Wilkins Centre principal investigator Professor Peter Shepherd.

Rachel says that whereas a lot of teacher professional development focuses on pedagogy, or how to teach, the Content Day offered an update on the science itself from some of the country’s best researchers. Cindy Wynn, a science teacher development expert from Team Solutions, says: “This was a massive opportunity for teachers to up-skill, which they’re screaming out for. It was unique and very valuable because it provided teachers with up to date, cutting edge information.”

Peter selected Maurice Wilkins Centre scientists whose expertise matched key topics at NCEA Level 3, from the impact of new technologies in genetic profiling and stem cell research, to understanding how our bodies maintain equilibrium (a new topic for the coming year). Working with Rachel, he helped them present the material in a way that teachers could take straight into the classroom.

There were 130 registrations for the event, more than triple the number anticipated, and teachers’ feedback was overwhelmingly positive: 99 per cent said events like these were essential or very valuable and all planned to use the material. Sam Siliasau, Senior Biology Teacher at Wesley College, says that it also bridged the gap from school to university, helping him prepare his students for higher study. He has since invited two of the presenters to speak at his school and motivate students interested in scientific careers.

The Centre sponsored the event, allowing teachers to attend free of charge, and Rachel says administrator Peter Lai’s assistance was critical to its success. Similar events are now being planned around the country.

Outreach to schools helps Centres of Research Excellence fulfil their role in the promotion of science, and Peter Shepherd says the Maurice Wilkins Centre has sought to identify areas where its resources can really make a difference. Peter and Rachel have a suite of initiatives underway partnering teachers with scientists and have also written an award-winning biology textbook


Image: Delegates at the inaugural NCEA Level 3 Content Day, held at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. Photo courtesy of Godfrey Boehnke