Abuzz with science at Koraunui School

Issue: Volume 96, Number 6

Posted: 10 April 2017
Reference #: 1H9d7B

Science education is in all aspects of life, and this is especially true at Koraunui School in the Hutt Valley, where children learn to grow vegetables and keep bees, and where Dianne Christenson is the first primary teacher to receive the Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize.

Building, growing vegetables, trapping predators, keeping bees, checking the health of the local waterways and gathering data on the local species are all in a day’s work for Dianne Christenson’s students.

Dianne is the curriculum leader for science at Koraunui School in Stokes Valley in the Hutt Valley. At a ceremony at Parliament on March 21, she became the first primary school teacher to be awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize, since the prizes’ inception in 2009.

Under Dianne’s leadership, students at Koraunui School work in the garden, the river, the ocean and the kitchen, getting the opportunity to explore, take risks, get used to failure and have fun while they’re doing it.

Among the projects initiated under Dianne’s leadership are installing beehives at the school, making and selling natural balms and creams, students building a shed to store garden tools, supporting the establishment of a school taro patch and cleaning rubbish from local waterways.

“When learning is fun, children want to come to school, they want to learn and they come to believe in themselves,” says Dianne.

“You need to inspire kids, to give them promise and hope, the belief that they can make a place for themselves and that they can make a better world."

“Not everyone has the same skill set or the same ability but everyone can find their passion. If I can get just a couple of kids to discover the thing they are successful at, I will be happy and feel I have done a good job in teaching.”

Dianne had careers as a geologist and a farmer before training as a teacher 14 years ago.

She has been at Koraunui School for 12 years and puts a strong emphasis on linking her science teaching back to the cultures of the students she teaches.

“We work together with the teachers from our bilingual classes, learning the appropriate whakapapa, relating scientific contexts to ngā atua Māori and to traditional purakau (stories),” she says.

Collaboration with the local community is also important. One example is a student investigation into the materials used in building the wharenui at nearby Koraunui Marae.

“Half the group had attended kōhanga reo at the marae and were familiar with the building,” explains Dianne.

“For my Pakeha students it was a way to open their eyes to another culture. They began to see the value of mātauranga Māori and understand that people in the past had used some of the same skills they were learning.”

Dianne also connects her students to science providers in the Wellington region, including Wellington Zoo, Zealandia, Wellington Botanic Gardens, Hutt Science and the Whitebait Connection with classes getting involved in projects that have impact on their community.

Koraunui School is currently involved in two kaitiakitanga projects.

One is to improve fish passage migration within the valley. Students have identified barriers and are working to remediate these. This may involve placing spat ropes where appropriate, planting for improved habitat, adding baffles to slow stream flow but also making children aware of flood protection measures undertaken by the council. Students need to understand the balance between conservation and human habitation.

The school is planning to host a bioblitz later this year. Gathering data about the biodiversity of the local area will enable students to measure the effectiveness of both predator control programmes and planting programmes to enhance native bush habitats.

Dianne believes there is a positive flow-on effect from the activities the students do at school.

“It’s the kids that go home and grow gardens and teach their whānau about growing food, or the ones who now pick up rubbish because they have seen the effect it can have on our waterways.”

Staff at the school also report a reduction in negative behaviours and better attendance at school as a result of student engagement in science and technology. Students are seeing their actions have impact and science is real, which gives them motivation to keep learning.

Dianne regularly upskills herself in science teaching through her involvement in local and national science networks. She completed a Certificate in Primary Science Teaching through the New Zealand Open Polytechnic and the Royal Society Science Teaching Leadership Programme in 2015 and last year joined a field trip to Vanuatu to collect samples from an active volcano.

Dianne says she is extremely proud of winning the prize, not just for herself but also for Koraunui School and the local community.

“This is a wonderful community who get behind us and have a lot of trust in us – it is a real gift to be given that trust by parents.”

Being awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize sees Dianne receive $50,000 and Koraunui School $100,000.

Koraunui School acting principal Dianne Wright is looking forward to seeing how the award will enhance learning opportunities in the near future.

“Science is empowering and engaging our students with a view of their roles in the wider community and globally,” she says.

“There are so many opportunities for this money to be used to widen their horizons.”

Some ideas brainstormed include carrying out further real world research, upskilling teaching staff in science and technology, creating a ‘science playground’ and supporting a project that will allow students to problem solve energy efficiency challenges.

Read more about science at Koraunui School in the July 2016 Education Gazette article

The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes

The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes are a key part of the Curious Minds work programme – a national strategic plan for science in society launched in 2014 to help all New Zealanders engage with science and technology.

Awarded every year, the prizes were first established in 2009.

Find more information on the PMSciencePrizes website(external link)

Outcomes for students

Students at Koraunui School are learning to appreciate that science is a way of explaining the world.

Beekeeping and growing vegetables such as taro provide opportunities to recognise the life processes common to all living things, and how they respond to environmental changes, both natural and human-induced.

By engaging with local organisations, students are learning to identify ways in which scientists work together, gather data and provide evidence to support their ideas.

Students are using their growing scientific knowledge when considering issues of concern to them, such as their local waterways, and learning to understand the balance between human habitation and conservation.

The key competencies are infused in the science curriculum at Koraunui School. In particular, students are participating and contributing by learning to be kaitiakitanga of their local environment.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 6:46 pm, 10 April 2017

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