FIELD POSTING: Philip has spent the past six months learning how better to teach about our natural environment. Photo Troy Baker D8670-11

INSTILLING a curiosity for learning about all things coming under the broad banner of science is the goal of Ohope Beach School teacher Philip Meyer, who has spent the past two terms out of his classroom learning how to do exactly that.

Philip is nearing the end of a six-month Science Teaching Leadership Programme that aims to equip teachers with the skills to lead new concepts in science education within their own schools.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment-funded programme was established to support the Government’s strategic initiative – “A Nation of Curious Minds” – an initiative which, in itself, aims to encourage New Zealanders to be environmentally responsible citizens.

Twice a year, an application and selection process is held, with teachers from throughout the country chosen to undertake the programme.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” Philip says. “Intensive and inspiring. I’ve experienced so many things I might never have otherwise and I’m really looking forward to getting back to my school.”

The Science Teaching Leadership Programme places teachers into scientific organisations within their own communities to work alongside staff to gain an in-depth understanding of their work.

These placements occur in between monthly week-long stints in Wellington spent studying new concepts in science teaching, and attendance at specific study intensives including a week-long leadership course at Otago University.

Teachers are then expected to return to their schools able to use their newly acquired science teaching and leadership skills to develop and lead science curriculum, and to develop links with science-based organisations within their communities.

“I might have been out of the classroom,” Philip laughs, “but I certainly haven’t been on holiday. It’s been really busy, but I’ve been so inspired, and I can’t wait to get back to school”.

“The programme is all about teaching science to children through experience; about equipping them with the skills to be good future planners in terms of looking after the environment and how to think like a scientist; how to observe, gather data, to think about what’s happening.”

For Philip, his six-month experience on the programme is something he wouldn’t swap for anything.

His field posting was with the Department of Conservation in Whakatane, with his overall study objective being the exploration of science and conservation within the unique Whakatane environment. He says the experience was something he wouldn’t swap for anything.

“I spent a lot of time at a desk, but I also got to go out to learn first-hand about the work that DoC do,” an experience that he says has left him in awe. “The effort and amount of work undertaken by both DoC staff, and by their volunteers, is phenomenal.”

He says practical field experience included “hacking though the bush” on Moutohora (Whale Island) looking for kiwi and learning how to track and monitor them and to write scientific reports on the findings.

He also spent time on the predator-free Raurimu Islands as part of DoC’s ongoing efforts to ensure pests haven’t made their way to the islands. Having up-close experiences with the native geckos that live there, was, he says, a highlight of the entire programme, along with hearing the call of the endangered native forest bird, the kokako in the Whirinaki Forest, some of the rarest forest of its kind in New Zealand.

Other teachers on the programme were placed with science-based organisations in their own communities, and included placements with volcanologists, marine researchers, food researchers, and even beekeepers, he says.

Philip will return to Ohope Beach School next term having completed his final reports and presentations to Royal Society Te Aparangi, the independent organisation that supports science and technology in New Zealand and sets the objectives for teachers attending the programme.

“It’s all closely monitored,” he says. “A lot of money is invested in the programme and a lot is expected from teachers who have attended it.

“It’s been a big commitment, but I’ve been totally invigorated by it. It’s been a wonderful way to upskill as a teacher, both in terms of science, and in my own personal thinking and

it’s also reminded how much I love being a teacher.”

“I’m feeling passionate about getting back to the classroom and inspiring the kids to really look at how we are looking after our animals and fresh water and environment, about how we need to do a better job of looking after the planet.

“Our tamariki are going to be our own unique guardians in the future.”