Building science and maths enthusiasm in the classroom

Issue: Volume 96, Number 13

Posted: 24 July 2017
Reference #: 1H9deP

Science and mathematics teachers at Palmerston North East Community of Learning are using their expertise to advocate for their subjects from the early childhood to secondary school level and beyond.

Mairi Borthwick is HOD Science at Freyberg High School and Troy Duckworth is a teacher at Russell Street School. Both are one of five across-school lead teachers in the Palmerston North East Community of Learning.

Mairi is a strong advocate for students learning science from early childhood to secondary and beyond. (She wants to change any perception that science is limited to Bunsen burners!) Troy’s passion for maths and for his new role is palpable. “I’ve been teaching for a long time, so it’s nice to take the next step. Being an across-school teacher adds a new and exciting dimension,” he says. 

Freyberg High School is the only secondary school in the Palmerston North East Community of Learning, so working primarily with primary and intermediate teachers on science has been quite a culture shift for Mairi.

“I was going into fairly unfamiliar territory but am learning a lot from my primary colleagues about this area of teaching and learning and thinking about students’ and teachers’ science needs across the Community of Learning, rather than just within my own school,” she says.

Troy works with 11 within-school teachers (WSTs) focusing on maths. “We started with our national standards documentation and other benchmarks to develop a consistent understanding of overall teacher judgments (OTJs) in maths across and within our schools.

“To develop a collective understanding of our achievement data, we must have consistency of OTJs between our schools. We want to understand what is actually happening in maths across our schools right now and work out what we need to do to improve student achievement.

“Accurate and reliable data is crucial to consistency in how we teach and therefore how children and young people learn in our community. It lets us focus on certain areas to see what’s making a difference, and to identify where teacher capability in maths can be improved through targeted professional learning and development.”

Mairi believes that teachers’ lack of confidence is behind the tendency for science to be overlooked in the classroom.

“The limited training in science for primary school teachers was an eye opener for me and it explains why some kids get to secondary and haven’t really done much science. Also, a lot of kids have been doing science but don’t realise it. Perhaps we need to make it a bit more explicit that science isn’t just about blowing things up!” she says.

Mairi and her colleagues are building capacity and confidence at each school so teachers realise that science is an awesome context in which to teach numeracy, writing and reading. Her main goal, however, is fostering an interest in science from an early age so that more students, including Māori, do science at Level 2. “It’s really exciting,” she says.

Troy conducts what he calls ‘vibe’ visits to each of his WST classrooms. “I want to pick up on their pedagogy, see how maths is going for them, find out what their students are up to, and get some input from them and their students about what they are up to, to help us gather more data on maths performance,” he says.

Troy is also working closely with Jodie Hunter, a PLD provider at the University of Auckland, to ensure his WSTs are receiving the PLD they need to teach maths more effectively.

“Our first 100 hours of PLD has come through already. One of the goals is to get all the WSTs one day of professional development per term. We had our first day in early May, focusing on Ambitious Teaching and Core Practice. It was really beneficial. Lots of our existing practices were challenged and all of us got some new tools to take back to use with our teachers or teams.”

Science teaching is also benefiting from extra support in the Palmerston North East Community of Learning, with help from both the Ministry of Education and the Royal Society Te Apārangi. 

“Our Community of Learning has had a huge boost with the Ministry of Education funding 800 hours of PLD for science over two years. This will be used with facilitators from Kaha Education and we’re currently developing a delivery plan for that across all our schools,” says Mairi.

The CoL also has seven of its teachers on the Science Teaching Leadership Programme, run by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

“These teachers are a huge asset and their enthusiasm has spread across the group. Every school in the Community of Learning is embracing the science and technology challenge, so it’s going to be really exciting,” she says.

The Community of Learning is also working closely with Ruahine Kindergarten Association. The association has self-funded an across-schools early childhood teacher to meet with other across-schools teachers to provide an early childhood perspective.

Mairi says this is also an exciting development. “I’m looking forward to working across the education pathway. We recently spoke to early childhood representatives to look at how we can work with them and they’re really keen to look at science. They do some of that now and want to see how it progresses from their level to new entrants, and what they can do to help make that transition a lot easier.”

Troy and Mairi still teach in the classroom and that’s important to them. But both are grateful that their new roles give them more time to spread their enthusiasm for maths and science to more teachers, and through them, to more children and young people across their Community of Learning.

Mairi and Troy both agree that Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako offer teachers like them career paths not previously available. Both find it’s been refreshing to have new challenges, new opportunities to learn from others, and to be able to share their knowledge in new ways.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 6:00 am, 24 July 2017

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