Kōrero with scientists

A scheme to make it possible for primary teachers to Kōrero  (converse) with scientists is being developed by The MacDiarmid Institute. In two-hour interactive workshops, teachers explore basic concepts (like magnets, light, acids and bases) with scientists as well as hearing about areas of specialist research. “Interacting with scientists is a rare experience for many teachers, but you see them getting ignited with child-like excitement at being scientists themselves,” says Eseta Fuli, who coordinates science-based professional learning and development at the NZEI. The Ministry of Education identified particular weaknesses in science teaching at Year 10 and at primary school—60 percent of teachers didn’t believe they had the necessary skills to teach science to Year 4 students. “It’s encouraging, as a teacher myself, to be involved with a programme that allows professional learning to be about building confidence and having practical and successful experiences in science,” says Fuli. The MacDiarmid Institute started the pilot programmes under its ‘inspire’ strategic goal, which seeks to ‘engender passion for science and innovation across society’. “You can’t rely on students getting excited about science and simply educating themselves—we know that now,” says Kate McGrath, MacDiarmid Institute director. “But because universities already target students to encourage into science, we decided we would target teachers.”

The first workshops were judged to be extraordinarily successful by all parties and a formal agreement between the institute and the NZEI was made in 2013 to develop the programme further. In Wellington, university staff and PhD students ran the Kōrero sessions, but in Auckland—a larger city with fewer scientists—a different approach was called for. 

“We used teachers who had been Royal Society Teacher Fellows—and that worked very well too. This year we will take the programme to a non-university town, then to schools with predominantly Māori and Pacific teachers or children, and finally and most challengingly, run it in Te Reo [Māori],” says McGrath. The Kōrero events are also opportunities for scientists and PhD students to practice communicating science to a nonacademic audience. The MacDiamid Institute is clear that their work with the NZEI is not to run the Kōrero  with Scientists programme long-term. “ We want to be innovators—identify issues that we can find potential solutions for, trial them, gather evidence of their effectiveness, then convince people to take the programmes on at a larger scale. When another provider is running this as standard professional development for teachers, we’ll move on to our next pilot. The Institute is also growing a collection of experiments that teachers can do in the classroom, called 100 of the Best and later in the year plans to launch a public web-based question and answer forum resourced by New Zealand’s large retired scientist community.