Highlights //

Teacher development, from Kaitaia to Invercargill (2013)

This year the Maurice Wilkins Centre expanded its programme of professional development days for science teachers. 

Teacher Development From Kaitaia To InvercargillThe free one-day events have been designed to support teachers in their teaching of new units in the NCEA Level 3 Biology curriculum. The initiative was developed by head of biology at Epsom Girls Grammar School, Ms Rachel Heeney, and MWC Deputy Director, Professor Peter Shepherd.

“I believe that you get results by empowering people, and you need to empower people through the teachers,” Peter says.

After the success of the inaugural event in Auckland in 2012, the programme was expanded in 2013 to include Kaitaia, Rotorua, Napier, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. “And I was flooded by emails after these events occurred,” says Rachel. Teachers said they had come away from the event, feeling more informed and knowledgeable. “We didn’t want to be taught how to teach, but to have the chance to learn more about biology, and that’s what the MWC has given us.” At each event teachers heard from scientists from New Zealand universities as well as those working in Crown Research Institutes, and on a variety of topics.

In Kaitaia, for instance, Peter focused on homeostasis, a new unit in NCEA Level 3, specifically in relation to metabolism and diabetes. The understanding of the disease has changed radically since many biology teachers were at university, he says. “And it is a way that teachers could bring in a disease that affects their community, and through that help communities develop a better understanding of that disease. It’s more interesting to the students too, because they can relate to it.”

Other topics discussed by scientists included the manipulation of plant genomes, human genomics, and human stem cells, all topics where the science is rapidly changing, making it difficult for science teachers to keep up. The scientists provided teachers with classroom-ready material, ideas and discussion points on the day and via the MWC website.

“It gave us the opportunity to spend time with highly qualified scientists, who gave us tips on how we could teach a topic and make it clear”, says Jan Galland, a biology teacher at Napier Girls High. Jan was also awarded a MWC biology teacher development scholarship, a complementary initiative also aimed at linking science teachers with scientists. This allowed her to attend the Queenstown Molecular Biology Conference in 2013, which was not only personally educational, but highlighted the myriad opportunities now open to science graduates. “Going down there and meeting all these people who were doing their PhDs, and the range of topics, really motivated me to encourage students, to get a good BSc, to do their Honours and get on with their studies.”

Based on an overwhelmingly positive response, the Centre will continue to expand the programme in the future.

Feature image: High school biology teachers, including MWC teacher fellowship winners, attending Queenstown Research Week together with Hon Steven Joyce and Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa Rana El Farra (Tarawera College), Jan Galland (Napier Girls High School), Sarah Johns (Nelson College), Hon Steven Joyce, Prof Sususmu Tonegawa, Prof Peter Shepherd, Rachel Heeney (Epsom Girls Grammar), Helen Webber (Epsom Girls Grammar), Helen Swift (Epsom Girls Grammar)

Image courtesy of Prof Peter Shepherd