Science Teaching Leadership Programme a “chance of a lifetime”

Kat Thompson, a teacher from Manawatū's Ashhurst School, taking Dr Toby Mündel’s blood pressure.

Jasmine Foote from St Mary's College, Auckland.

Alex Tava from Murrays Bay Intermediate School, Auckland.

The Science Teaching Leadership Programme, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, has inspired and motivated teachers to get behind science.

The programme, which is managed by the Royal Society Te Apārangi, provides opportunities for primary and secondary school science departments – and their nominated teachers – to enhance the teaching of science within school communities. Massey University’s Auckland and Manawatū campuses hosted three teachers across primary, intermediate and college levels.

There are two phases to the programme. Teachers take paid leave from their school during phase one and undertake a placement in an organisation that uses science as a significant part of their work.

Through workshops and online discussions, the teachers expand their understanding of the Nature of Science strand in the New Zealand National Curriculum. Through a master’s level programme aimed at educational leadership, teachers explore their leadership capacity by focusing on their personal growth and development. They then move on to phase two, which takes 12-18 months, where they are back at school. The teachers and their schools work together to improve science teaching and student learning.

Dr Pamela von Hurst and Dr Toby Mündel from the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, hosted the Massey University programme in Auckland and Palmerston North, alongside colleagues and students. The teachers involved were: Jasmine Foote, St Mary’s College, Auckland; Alex Tava, Murrays Bay Intermediate School, Auckland; and Kat Thompson, Ashhurst School, Ashhurst.

Ms Foote and Ms Tava’s placement was with the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition in Massey’s College of Health, in Auckland. They worked alongside Dr von Hurst and her colleagues, assisting with various research projects that are underway at Massey.

“During Alex and Jasmine’s placement, they had the opportunity to attend undergraduate lectures on a variety of subjects related to nutrition,” Dr von Hurst says. “They have been involved in research projects including the GLARE Studyand the Children’s Bone Study, which investigated the role of anti-oxidants in modulating blood sugar for people with prediabetes, and the bone health of children in relation to a number of other factors respectively.

“Alex and Jasmine have been involved throughout the research process for both of these studies, from the recruitment and screening processes, as well as data collection and data entry. This involvement has seen them develop an understanding of both Type 2 Diabetes and poor bone health, as well as the role of nutrition in reducing the risk of these conditions,” she says.

Ms Thompson was hosted by Dr Toby Mündel and colleagues from the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition on Massey’s Manawatū Campus. Her placement involved attending lectures, laboratory and practical classes in exercise prescription, physical education and exercise science; observing and engaging in science in a variety of practicum classes working with sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis, grade 3 astrocytoma and rehabilitation/physical training, as well as discussions with scientists and postgraduate students about their research, observing and helping on different research projects. 

“Kat has been involved with several programmes, including Bikes in Schools, the Chronic Fatigue and Healthy Control Study, Effects of Using Vibration Plates and Sub-maximal Exercise testing,” Dr Mündel says. “This has given her a base knowledge of science showing the impact of movement on the human body. It has allowed her to observe the Nature of Science in the real world, through opportunities with the scientists via discussion, observation, data collection and analysis,” he says.

All three teachers involved say it was a wonderful experience. “I feel privileged to have been part of the programme,” Ms Foote says. “One of the highlights has been seeing the research process at Massey from start to finish. I have seen or been involved in ethics application approval, planning and recruitment, collection and processing of data and finally drawing conclusions to make recommendations. I have gained a comprehensive knowledge of how a study is thought of, conducted and published, which has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the scientific method and how it can be applied in the classroom. I will now be able to speak authentically to students about the process and how it is applied in actuality in the ‘real world’”.

Ms Tava agrees. “Through this firsthand experience, I have developed an understanding of how scientific knowledge develops through research, which is continually reviewed, revised and built upon by the scientific community. Nutrition is an area of science that is highly relevant to the lives of young people, and I look forward to engaging learners through this to recognise the importance of nutrition in building and sustaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Ms Thompson says being part of the programme was a “chance of a lifetime, which has been outstanding and inspiring from start to finish. A highlight of my placement was the variety of research taking place and the opportunity to observe, assist, discuss, gather and collect data. Another highlight was working in the Locomotive Clinic with a client who was unable to move the lower half of her body independently. At the end of the supported workout the muscle twitch was extremely rapid and very visible from the hips to the calves. It was amazing to see what the human body can do. It has been a humbling experience," she says.

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